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Rod Bowar: Being involved and making a difference

KENNEBEC — The strong work ethic Rod Bowar has today showed at an early age.

As a teen, the Kennebec native earned a job with Kennebec Telephone Company Inc. and worked for owners Lloyd and Delores Johnstone.

With less than two years on the job, Bowar found himself working in brutal conditions following an October blizzard in 1978.

"While most of my friends were having fun on Halloween, I'm walking across a section line with a pole and a flashlight knocking ice off lines," Bowar told The Daily Republic in a recent interview in his Kennebec office. "That one sticks in my head."

Those were just a few of the steps the now-56-year-old Bowar took to become one of South Dakota's most impactful people in telecommunications.

Bowar is one of 10 honorees for this year's South Dakota Hall of Fame class. The hall of fame, located in Chamberlain, honors people of South Dakota and their contributions to the development and heritage of the state. Bowar and the other inductees of 2018 will be recognized at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Arrowwood Resort in Oacoma.

Bowar enjoys being busy. After purchasing Kennebec Telephone Company in 1998, he created business divisions with an entrepreneurial mindset. He now owns PowerCom Electric, Charley's Welding and Auto, Kennebec Telephone Construction, Chamberlain NAPA, Technology & Communications Specialists and Main Street Office Plaza in Kennebec.

"When it's all said and done, I'd like to be able to make a difference," he said. "It may be tiny, but I'd like to make a difference."

He said that mindset came from his parents, who led by example. His late father was an auto mechanic and the namesake for Charley's Welding and Auto, a NAPA AutoCare Center in Kennebec.

His father was also on the Kennebec Town Board and a firefighter, both paths Bowar took as he grew up. His mother was a teacher at Lyman School District and regularly involved in the church and other community activities.

"They worked hard and gave back," Bowar said. "Being involved makes you feel good. You're one small piece of something."

In 1976, when Bowar was 14, he was purchased at a labor auction by the Johnstones, then-owners of Kennebec Telephone Company. At that time, the company had about 250 customers. He later took a management position and eventually became owner. Today, Kennebec Telephone Company serves 650 customers. Bowar's businesses employ 47 people, 32 of whom are full time.

Each time Bowar has expanded his company, he considered whether he could find the right people for the job. That's why he focuses on the "homegrowns" to come back and work.

Bowar said there are four college students who are under scholarship with Kennebec Telephone Company now. The local students are attending college in South Dakota with the understanding they'll return home and work in Kennebec following graduation.

While getting involved in helping students find a career path, Bowar has landed on the Mitchell Technical Institute Foundation Board, and the South Dakota Board of Technical Education Board.

The state board was created when South Dakota voters approved Amendment R in November 2016. That allowed the state's four postsecondary technical institutes to be governed separately from the South Dakota Board of Regents. In March 2017, Gov. Dennis Daugaard announced the appointment of nine people to the board, including Bowar, who was selected from among the four nominees submitted by Mitchell Technical Institute.

"South Dakota is a great state because of our small towns, and these communities rely on leaders like Rod Bowar," Daugaard said. "Rod's career has created opportunities and improved the quality of life in Kennebec. He is also a state leader, as a member of the Board of Technical Education. I think Rod is an excellent addition to the South Dakota Hall of Fame."

Bowar serves the telecom industry on the boards of SDN Communications, and he's the president of the South Dakota Telecommunications Association. He's also on the Dakota Prairie Bank Board, Kennebec Clinic Committee, Badlands Fire District and numerous community clubs.

Bowar called this year "a rollercoaster." While the Hall of Fame induction was exciting, his wife, Donna, died in April from mitochondrial disease, a rare genetic disorder that attacked the DNA in her spinal cord. They were married for 30 years.

He has two children and a stepson.

His son, Chaz, and daughter, Tiarra Bowar-Choal, are both employees for Bowar in Kennebec. Chaz is the head of the electrical division and Tiarra works in customer service as an administrative assistant. Troy, Bowar's stepson, lives in San Francisco.

When discussing his family, Bowar also named Matt Collins, who is Kennebec Telephone Company's assistant manager. Collins, the company's longest-tenured employee aside from Bowar, has worked there for 27 years.

"I have a lot of great employees," Bowar said. "They're the ones who drive all this."

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