Jack Bowers, Sierra Club volunteer who helped countless young people forge connections with nature, dies at 67

By Patrick Oliver

Longtime Sierra Club volunteer Jack Bowers died on Saturday, July 2, while descending North Palisade in the Sierras. He had just summited the mountain with his brother, David, when he slipped and fell 80 feet, dying instantly. He was 67.

He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Lisa, and by his two brothers, David and Andy. Another brother, Roy, predeceased him.

Jack Bowers was a man who was committed to getting kids outdoors. No volunteer for the local chapter of the Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO) program went on more trips or connected with more students than Jack. As fellow ICO volunteer Michael Fischer says, “Jack was clearly committed to making parks accessible to everyone, to sharing a little bit of the joy and awe that being in the midst of fabulous natural wonders brought to him — and that sense of peace and calm that we’ve all experienced as the sun goes down on one of those perfect ICO trips. I will miss him but will always remember the many lessons I learned from him.”

Jack grew up in Orinda, graduated from Miramonte in the class of '67, and later worked as a machinist and mechanic. He was a Scoutmaster for the Boy Scouts for many years.

As a volunteer for the SF Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club ICO, Jack led countless backpacking and camping trips. In the spirit of John Muir, who asserted that people who experience wilderness first hand are much more likely to preserve it for future generations, Jack helped young people discover, enjoy and explore the beauty of nature.

From the first time I first worked with Jack in the fall of 2013 — taking my Mount Diablo High School students backpacking in Morgan Territory — to the more than ten trips he later volunteered to help run with me, I knew I could always count on Jack. This spring, I was about to cancel my students’ senior class trip to Yosemite National Park because I couldn’t find a volunteer to help run the trip. Suddenly, Jack Bowers messaged me about getting firewood. The trip was on!

Jack’s friends in the Sierra Club ICO had so many kind words to share about his life. Here are a few:

“Jack was on every trip that I went on and he had an encyclopedic memory of the plants, trees, rocks, and waterways of California. He was incredibly generous and reliable.” – Taylor Smiley

“Jack was always willing to pick up the gear, make sure it was dry, and return it to the gear shed in Oakland for so many of us. Every year, Jack went on so many more trips than any other ICO leader. He led a lot, but he more often assisted other leaders, many of whom were scrambling for help. Jack lived his life to the fullest. Jack died living!” – Mickey Allison

“Jack was an absolute inspiration to me in ICO. I've lost count of all the trips we have been on together. I learned so very much from him these last 16 years and he was always there for all of us. I will never forget him as long as I live.” – Linda Olvera

“This is very sad. In my short time with ICO Jack was on several of the trips I went on and I immediately realized and respected what a stalwart volunteer he was for ICO. He was always there to lend a hand and go the extra mile to help.” – Lisa Valdivia

“I spent several afternoons and evenings with Jack in the Chestnut Street gear shed and there was almost no piece of equipment that Jack didn’t think was worth repairing… He was an endless source of information about what we saw, smelled, and heard along the trail and his information was always offered in a casual way, never calling attention to himself. Yet, when you were on a trip with Jack, there were the endless calls of, ‘Mr. Jack, Mr. Jack, do you know what this is?’ as kids held up branches, leaves, and bugs of all different kinds for Jack to identify and impart his wilderness wisdom.” – Michael Fischer

Jack was also active with the Bay Chapter’s Oakland Tree Team. The program’s founder, Arthur Boone, says of Jack: “He was a great contributor towards our program. He figured out how to get a lot of mechanical-type problems solved, never calling attention to himself. He almost always showed up without notice and took on the most difficult tasks without a complaint — never one to dodge what he knew he could do. We will remember with gratitude forever that he chose to exercise his passion for doing good in our little group."

Jack’s joy in life was helping others and he gave of himself unstintingly. He will be missed by many Sierra Club volunteers, friends, teachers, and students.