With Service as His Guide

By Holly Couture | Nov 26, 2012
Photo by: Maggie Tardiff, Cohen Community Center Joe Cowing at the entrance of Spectrum Generations Cohen Community Center in Hallowell

Joe Cowing, a regular at Spectrum Generations Cohen Community Center in Hallowell, recently sat down with volunteer, Nancee Campbell, to share a bit of his interesting life story. 


Joe Cowing, a retired Air Force Major from Dresden, is a multi-faceted man. His lifetime has been dedicated to the values of service, compassion and duty, and passing those values on to the generations that will follow him. Joe stands in the middle of five generations and considers it a blessing to be able to identify the common threads that run through all these generations: aspirations to higher education, followed by careers in the military, teaching, social work, and the ministry.

Joe’s father grew up in New Hampshire, but moved his family to East Detroit, Michigan after serving in World War I. His mother had been raised in Dresden, so the Cowings came from Michigan to Maine every summer. He and his cousins shared pot luck suppers, county fairs and church socials, and now currently live up and down Glen Hill Road in Dresden. He wonders, “Does that mean I’m still ‘from away’?”

The Cowings are proud of their military history that dates back to the Revolutionary War. Joe’s father served in World War I, his two older brothers joined the military in the 40’s, and Joe followed them in 1950, just in time for Korea. It’s always been a tradition in the Cowing family to be sworn into the military by a family member. Joe was sworn in by his brother in 1951, and he had the honor of swearing in two sons and a granddaughter.

Joe served 4 years in the Air Force as a radar operator during the Korean conflict, and spent 32 years in the Active Reserves. While serving in the reserves, he went to school at Eastern Michigan College to become a teacher, and then to Wayne State University to be a social worker.

The Air Force made good use of his talents as a teacher when they commissioned Joe as an Intelligence Officer in the reserves. He taught survival skills to soldiers who would see battle, as well as counseled troubled soldiers and their families. It was a duty he loved because he was given the opportunity to help others, which utilized a value instilled in him by his family.

Just as his father modeled civic service by serving on town leadership committees, so did Joe. After his brothers completed their military service, they too had careers that involved teaching, ministry or social work. Joe’s four sons have also served in the military, and gone on to careers in teaching, social work and the ministry.

Joe said military service had a fringe benefit for his brothers and him because they all met their future wives when they were stationed around the country. While he and his wife Donna Mae were raising their four sons, Joe was in the reserves. He taught for 20 years at a school for handicapped children, and was employed for another 20 years as a social worker. Both careers enabled him to be of service to young people when they needed help the most. Throughout his civilian career he worked successfully with kids who were being bullied, and guided many young people toward a more confident, constructive future. 

Joe can be found at Spectrum Generations Cohen Center in Hallowell at least twice a week, then visits his beloved wife on the Alzheimer’s unit at Woodlands Senior Living right next door. “I’m almost 80 and go to heart rehab twice a week, so I’m not as active as I used to be. Most of us would go down the drain without the activity provided at the Cohen Center. I enjoy the company of other seniors and veterans that I wouldn’t have a chance to meet anywhere else,” Joe says.  “I’m about to join a support group at the Cohen Center that is for people who have loved ones living in care facilities.” he reflects. “I need to learn how adjust to all these life changes.”

Joe Cowing is at an age where he enjoys reflecting on his life. From the vantage point of nearly 80 years, he can see the ‘big picture’ at last.  One of the tasks Joe still wants to accomplish is to write a book that will tell the story of his life. “I’ve already got a title!”  he exclaims. “It’s going to be called The Life Journey of a Dinosaur: Raised to Make a Difference and Have Fun Along the Way.”  Joe’s grandkids call him a dinosaur because he doesn’t want to learn about electronics. But The Cowings hopes those grandkids will be impressed with his long and full life.

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