Kennebec Fire Chief, South Dakota Hall of Famer Rod Bowar dies at 60

The announcement of Bowar’s death led to hundreds of messages of support being shared across social media.

Rod Bowar.jpg
In this 2018 file photo, Rod Bowar stands in front of the Kennebec Telephone Company, a business he purchased in 1998.
Luke Hagen / Mitchell Republic
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KENNEBEC, S.D. — A pillar of the community. A true milestone. A great man.

Those are just some of the words community members in Kennebec and Lyman County have to say about Rod Bowar, who died Sunday of a heart attack in Deadwood at 60 years old.

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,...

It was no mistake that Bowar’s work ethic and personality would make him an important part of his community.

A lifelong resident of Kennebec, Bowar was born in 1962 to a father who served on the town board as well as a firefighter and a mother who taught at the Lyman School District and stayed involved in their church.

"They worked hard and gave back," Bowar said of his parents in a 2018 interview with the Mitchell Republic. "Being involved makes you feel good. You're one small piece of something."


Community involvement was something Bowar spent the rest of his life working for.

In 1976, at 14 years old, Bowar began working at the Kennebec Telephone Company. After graduating from Lyman High School in 1980, he worked his way into management, and, in 1998, purchased the company entirely with his wife and children.

But his entrepreneurial spirit and love for the town of Kennebec didn’t stop there, later coming to own PowerCom Electric, Charley's Welding and Auto, Kennebec Telephone Construction, Chamberlain NAPA, Technology & Communications Specialists and Main Street Office Plaza in Kennebec.

As one of many efforts to give back to who he referred to as “homegrowns,” Bowar, who also served as Chief of the Kennebec Volunteer Fire Department, kicked off a scholarship fund through the Kennebec Telephone Company. To earn the scholarship, students would reach an agreement to return to Kennebec for work after graduation.

"When it's all said and done, I'd like to be able to make a difference," Bowar said in 2018. "It may be tiny, but I'd like to make a difference."

Terry Sabers, secretary of the South Dakota Board of Technical Education, speaks during the group's meeting on Friday at Mitchell Technical Institute as fellow board member Rod Bowar looks on. (Sara Bertsch / Republic)
Rod Bowar, left, listens on as Terry Sabers, secretary of the South Dakota Board of Technical Education, speaks during a meeting at Mitchell Technical Institute.
Mitchell Republic file photo

While serving on the then-Mitchell Technical Institute’s Board of Trustees in 2017, Bowar’s name was submitted by the two-year college as a nominee to serve on the newly-created Board of Technical Education. In May 2017, then-Gov. Dennis Daugaard appointed Bowar to serve on the board — a position which he held until 2021.

In 2018, Bowar was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame, citing his ability to see opportunity where others see loss.

“Attracting workers challenges central South Dakota, so Rod actively recruits young people while they are in high school. He offers to pay their technical school tuition if they promise to come back and work for him,” the South Dakota Hall of Fame’s webpage on Bowar reads. “Workforce housing threatens the town's future, so he buys and fixes up Kennebec's housing stock as a supply for resale to his recruited employees.”


A community left in mourning

News of Bowar’s passing quickly spread around the south-central South Dakota community, with social media posts amassing likes, comments and shares in his memory.

On Sunday, the Lyman County Sheriff’s Office announced Bowar’s death on Facebook.

“It is with a heavy heart that we would like to inform Lyman County residents of the passing of Kennebec Fire Chief Rod Bowar. Rod has been a pillar of the community for several years and will be missed by several,” the post reads. “Please keep Chief Bowar and his family in your thoughts and prayers through this difficult time.”

In the comments, Facebook users from the area were quick to share their condolences and memories of Bowar.

“He loved his hometown, helped his hometown, impacted his hometown, and will be remembered there forever,” one Facebook user commented. “My deepest sympathies…..he was so generous and wanted to keep Kennebec thriving with young people.”

“With sincere sympathy for family and friends of Rod Bowar, and sadness for Kennebec community to lose one of its finest. May you all take comfort in days ahead, remembering him with inspiration,” another comment reads.

Due to Bowar’s service in the local fire department, the South Dakota Local Assistance State Team (LAST) was notified of his death. LAST provides support, planning and assistance for the families and the department members following the loss of life or line-of-duty death of public safety officers.

Funeral services Bowar will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 3, at the Lyman Gardens in Presho. Burial will follow in the Kennebec Cemetery. A visitation will be held Friday from 6-8 p.m. at the Kennebec Gymnasium with a prayer service to follow.

A South Dakota native, Hunter joined Forum Communications Company as a reporter for the Mitchell (S.D.) Republic in June 2021 and now works as a digital reporter for Forum News Service, focusing on local news in Sioux Falls. He also writes regional news spanning across the Dakotas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
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