Bernard F. Bowling, Sr. 1958 – 1984
Bernard Bowling, Sr. was appointed mayor in October 1958 when failing health forced James Noland to resign. Bowling was a long-time St. Matthews businessman and civic leader whose family owned Plehn’s Bakery at 3940 Frankfort Avenue. However, he also was trained as a civil engineer, and it was that technical expertise that proved important when he tackled the city’s chronic drainage and flooding problems, historically the biggest obstacle to development in St. Matthews. Bowling quickly initiated a $2 million sewer-construction project that laid the groundwork for development of the bulk of the city’s remaining undeveloped land, and thus for phenomenal growth in the city’s tax base during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Bowling, a father of 10 children, served as mayor for 26 years, without pay for the first 21; he was personally involved in virtually every decision, large and small, made on the city’s behalf over more than a quarter-century. He spent thousands of hours driving and walking the neighborhoods, and came to know St. Matthews like the back of his hand. “I know where every sinkhole is,” he once boasted. He also made a point of knowing almost every homeowner and business person by name. His unrivaled devotion to the city’s welfare and his considerable personal charm – not to mention his careful cultivation of the like-minded City Council and administrative staff – gave Bowling authority to conduct the city’s affairs almost single-handedly.
Determined to maintain cordial relations with larger local government entities ( mainly to safeguard his city’s independence), he had doughnuts delivered from his family’s bakery to Louisville City Hall and Jefferson Fiscal Court virtually every day he was in office. Some critics contended that Bowling was excessively pro-development, that his zoning policies in particular led to “piece-meal development of large tracts of land, “causing traffic congestion and spoiling the city’s quiet residential character.
Bowling believed he had done what was necessary for St. Matthews to prosper and continue meeting the needs of its citizens. Bernard Bowling Jr., a son of the former mayor, also served as mayor of St. Matthews from 2007 through 2014.
“The thing about Mayor Bowling was that he really loved St. Matthews; that was obvious even to the people who disagreed with him. He had a very specific vision of the city’s future, and he made it happen. The St. Matthews we live in today is largely the one he envisioned,” said Gretchen Kaiser, a former city clerk.