The job sounds horrendous: Commit to a weekly schedule where a 12-hour day is considered a relief, and your home is the venue for hundreds of guests invited to events year-round. If not entertaining, plan to be attending a lecture, athletic event or fundraiser. Understand there is significant travel involved and a constant smile is required. And know that all work is secondary to your full-time employment, not to mention your responsibilities as a spouse and parent.
Such is the expectation for Illinois State’s first lady, a position held with passion, purpose and grace for the past decade by Linda (Althoff) Bowman ’81, M.S. ’83.
“It’s been a blessing, not a burden,” she said of partnering with her husband, Al, to represent the University. “It is definitely work, but very pleasurable work. I love this job.”
Linda’s ability to find joy in completing endless commitments stems from her unique understanding of Al’s strengths and an appreciation for his work on behalf of the University, which brought them together.
They married in 1985 and a year later, Linda joined the staff of what is now the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. An expert in stuttering and speech disorders, Linda teaches the same course that Al taught when he began his career at Illinois State. She also serves as director of ISU’s Eckelmann-Taylor Speech and Hearing Clinic.
“We went from the husband-wife relationship to professional colleagues,” Linda said. His career path first impacted her significantly when he became chair. She consequently had to report to an administrator in a different department. Linda didn’t mind, however, as she appreciated Al’s ability to build a team and motivate others.
“His greatest insight is discernment and the ability to hire good people,” she said. “He is also able to identify the core of a problem and avoid distractions in finding effective solutions.” Ultimately, she ties his success to the fact that “Al cares so deeply” about Illinois State University.
Linda shares a strong affection for her alma mater, which is why she enthusiastically moved the family into the University residence and embraced the staggering demands that came with a full calendar. At the time, the Bowman’s oldest daughter, Laura, was 13. Their youngest, Natalie, was only 9.
“We involved the kids as much as we could,” Linda said, noting the challenge of parenting during those active childhood years while serving as first lady. The approach explains in part how the Bowmans have become so immersed in the University life.
“ISU is inexplicably aligned with every aspect of my life,” Linda said, noting the University has been responsible for her degree, career, marriage, and daughters’ education. Both children are graduates of University High School, with Laura an ISU alum as well.
“It is my past, present and future,” Linda said of ISU, expressing no qualms about what is still to come when Al leaves the office and her work as first lady ends. “I have a very strong faith and no fear about what is happening now.”
She also has no regrets for the investment that has been made during her years of partnering with the president to advance Illinois State.
“I have had the opportunity to teach in a field I love at a place I love with the people I love while working for the man I love,” Linda said. “How could I ever consider that a burden?”