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Associated Press
The funeral procession for former Indiana Gov. Otis R. "Doc" Bowen, with his casket on a horse-drawn caisson, heads up Center Street and Town Hall (upper right) in Bremen as the town says its final goodbye on Friday.

Former Gov. Bowen honored in hometown

BREMEN –The flag-draped casket of former Indiana Gov. Otis Bowen, a small-town doctor who became one of the nation's top health officials, was carried to a cemetery by a horse-drawn caisson Friday as hundreds of people lined the streets of his northern Indiana hometown.

The private funeral for one of the state's most popular governors was held at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Bremen, followed by his burial in Bremen Cemetery. Bowen, who also was the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary during the early days of the AIDS crisis, died Saturday at age 95.

Gov. Mike Pence attended the private service along with former governors Mitch Daniels and Joe Kernan. U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly and former lieutenant governors Becky Skillman and John Mutz also were present.

Bowen, who was affectionately known as "Doc," was a family doctor in Bremen for 25 years, during which time he estimated he delivered 3,000 babies — almost as many children as the town has residents. Many of those residents remembered him Friday as they lined the streets with their hands over their hearts, holding small American flags as Bowen's casket passed.

"We're all Bowen babies," read one hand-lettered sign outside the church.

Pastor Roger Rhode, who presided over the funeral service, called Bowen a soft-spoken and honest man, the Goshen News reported.

"He sought no honors or recognition," Rhode said. "He only sought to work for others. He took the talents and gifts God gave him and used them to his fullest."

Mourners shared stories of how Bowen treated their ailments and recalled his hands-on approach to governing.

Robert Wolfe, 72, told the Indianapolis Star that Bowen gave him his polio shot and patched up his broken arm at age 7.

Bowen, he said, was "a real gentleman. Soft-spoken. Just a heck of a person, a heck of a doctor."

Bowen's Indianapolis pastor, Rev. David Kahlenberg, recounted a story about a woman who called the governor's office during Bowen's tenure to complain that a snowplow had just pushed piles of snow back into the driveway she'd just shoveled. Bowen went to her home and shoveled the snow himself.

"He was kind of an earthly person," said William Beier, 75, of South Bend.

Bowen became active in Republican politics and was Indiana House speaker before winning elections as governor in 1972 and 1976, during which he overhauled Indiana's tax system.

He later became the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services secretary in President Ronald Reagan's cabinet and helped oversee the federal response to the burgeoning AIDS epidemic.

In that role, Bowen stressed educating the public about the dangers of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Among his efforts was a mailing to 107 million households that he and Surgeon General C. Everett Koop arranged that offered advice about how to avoid contracting HIV, the precursor to AIDS, including the use of condoms.

During a 1987 news conference, Bowen offered what has become oft-repeated safe-sex advice: "Remember, when a person has sex, they're not just having it with that partner, they're having it with everybody that partner had it with for the past 10 years."

Pence said Friday's funeral was a chance to honor "a great man, who made an incalculable contribution to the life of our state."

For the residents of Bremen, a sign on a building said it all: "Thanks, Doc. Your manners and medicine made us all better."