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Alumni Profile: Neil Bower, RPT, Class of 1951

By Nancy Hillmer (daughter of Neil Bower)


Neil Bower graduated from the CU Physical Therapy Program in 1951 at the age of 28. He had been a star athlete in high school, setting track records that stood for 40 years. He had hoped to become a running back for Notre Dame; but World War II interrupted his athletic dreams. He enlisted in the Coast Guard and served for 4 years in the Pacific until the war ended. He returned home and married his wartime sweetheart, Shirline. Neil used his GI Bill to go Southeast Missouri State College. He graduated, ready to be a teacher and coach. Then he heard about physical therapy...

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In 1950, with money left on his GI Bill, he and his new bride moved to Denver where he enrolled in CU's Physical Therapy program. In 1951, Neil and 9 classmates graduated from CU, prepared to practice physical therapy. He took his first job in Alton, Illinois, at Alton Memorial Hospital.

In the early 1950's, the polio epidemic was at its peak. Neil and his fellow therapist developed what became a nationally recognized rehab center. It served hundreds of polio patients from the southern half of the state. Their hospital overflowed with children, many of whom were confined for months at a time. They turned the hospital boardroom into a gymnasium and created suspension, exercise tables out of door springs, clothesline, and pipes. Therapy began while patients were still in iron lungs. "One of the hardest things for me," Neil once said, "Was exercising my patients in the iron lungs. I couldn't see their faces, so I couldn't tell if they were in pain."

Neil worked 6 days a week for 33 years with the same partner at Alton Memorial Hospital. He began at 5:30 a.m. (who would want to see their PT at that hour of the morning?) He worked all day, and then did nursing home visits in the evening for $2 per visit.

When Neil retired from the hospital in 1985, he began the 2nd half of his career as a PT in 2 different school districts. The last 20 years of his career, working for a rural homecare agency, were among his most enjoyable. The all-female staff of RNs adored him, and his patients (most of whom were younger than him) greatly admired and appreciated him. At the age of 82, he was named Illinois' Homecare Therapist of the Year.

Finally, at age 86, after 58 years as a PT, he quietly retired from physical therapy and a lifetime of serving others. He now lives in Louisville, CO with his wife of 70 years, his son-in-law, and his daughter, an occupational therapist.