Dr. David Rowland, the pioneer of Walker College and a significant contributor to the success of downtown Jasper, was recognized by his peers, friends and family at the Bankhead House and Heritage Center on Tuesday night, in conjunction with the celebration of downtown Jasper’s Main Street designation. Rowland has spent nearly 60 years in Walker County, and his first visit to Alabama was to Tuscaloosa, where Paul Kennedy, the president of the Walker Area Community Foundation, said Rowland visited to learn how to fly a plane.
“I was born in Detroit, Michigan, but moved back here in 1951, and I don’t remember a Jasper without Dr. Rowland,” Kennedy said. “He came here in 1956, and he’s been a large part of this community ever since then.”
In 1956, Rowland was approached to be the president of Walker College, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“There were 32 students at Walker College, operating out of an unowned building belonging to the city, with a light bulb dangling from the ceiling with a pull cord. ... He took it,” Kennedy said. “He took that and got them accredited in three years, and then he turned the helm over, after a long tenure at Walker College. There were 1,000 full time students, 40 acres of land owned by the college and 13 buildings. What an accomplishment.”
Rowland was also active, at the time, in the U.S. Army Reserves, becoming a colonel in military intelligence. In Walker County, he went on to serve as the president of Walker College from 1956 to ‘88. He served as chancellor from ‘88 to ‘95 and was the interim president of UAB Walker College and the vice president of UAB from ‘95 to ‘97.
His work didn’t stop there. Over the years, Rowland was president of the Rotary Club, Walker Area Chamber of Commerce, Black Warrior Council Boy Scouts of America and the Reserve Officers Association of the Jasper chapter.
He was chairman of the Jasper Industrial Development Board, Alabama Surface Mining Commission, Walker County Salvation Army, Walker County Senior Resource Council and United Way of Walker County. In his retirement, he has dabbled as an amateur artist and practiced tree farming and real estate development.
Billy Luster, chairman of the Walker County Commission, declared Tuesday as Dr. David Jack Rowland Appreciation Day, and Debbie Young Sanders, the president of the Downtown Jasper Business Association, described Rowland as a “champion” for the Jasper community.
Gary Cowen, District 3 representative on the Jasper City Council, also recognized Rowland as proclamations were presented to honor Rowland on Tuesday.
“He has been an integral part of the revitalization of downtown Jasper and a civic, community minded individual,” Cowen said. “All this stuff you’ve done and accomplished, I think we may need to send you to Washington.”
Putman said it was imperative to honor Dr. Rowland while celebrating the Main Street designation — a program that will bring revitalization to downtown Jasper, providing fiscal integrity, while also strengthening community ties.
“We refer to Dr. Rowland as the original Mr. Main Street, the original Mr. Downtown, because he invested in buildings and properties in the downtown area when no one else was. He was almost a single handed revitalization machine, himself,” Putman said.
“They’re kind of synonymous, the two of them. They both believe in downtown Jasper, the downtown area, and of course, a strong downtown means a strong everything in Jasper. ... The downtown is the heartbeat of a city.”
Rowland said he was honored to be recognized for his accomplishments and remained humble throughout the evening as he interacted with those who attended the reception.
“Well, it’s all a surprise. I didn’t know anything about this. I didn’t know I had this many friends, but I appreciate it very much,” he said.
As Kennedy’s speech came to a close, he applauded the 94-year-old Rowland for his accomplishments spanning six decades. “In his quiet, unamusing way, he didn’t bother talking the talk, he went straight to the walk,” Kennedy said.
“He’s always been a doer and a leader, and where he saw a need, he saw a way to fill it. ... David Rowland has left his mark on our community in everything he’s done, and he continues to do that.”
Reprinted from the Daily Mountain Eagle on July 1, 2015. Written by Nicole Smith.