Ask the Archivist: Rush’s J.R. Bowman Center

By Heather Stecklein

During a recent walking tour of campus conducted by the archives, three Rush University Medical Center employees asked the following question: “The Johnston R. Bowman Health Center is distinct in mission and location from the rest of the clinical services on campus? What brought the JRB to our campus, and when was it built?” Here’s the answer:

The Johnston R. Bowman Health Center at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago

The Johnston R. Bowman Health Center's two towers can be seen in the lower left corner of this 1977 photo.

During the first half of the 20th century, the Bowman Dairy Co. was one of the largest suppliers of dairy products in the Chicago area. In 1966, the Dean Foods Co. purchased the Bowman Dairy Co. Soon after, Lula Bowman, the widow of Bowman Dairy founder Johnston R. Bowman, died.

She bequeathed funds for the creation of a nonprofit organization (the Johnston R. Bowman Home Corp.) that would orchestrate the establishment of a world-class elder care center in Chicago. The corporation asked for proposals from a variety of area health care institutions, and the plan submitted by Rush impressed the selection committee more than the other nine contenders.

“The Medical Center’s proposal was an innovative one with a great understanding of the needs of the community,” the committee’s president remarked. “The keystone of this proposal has been to keep older people members of the community and to enable them to continue to fulfill an active role.”

The proposal included residential space, but the center was never intended to be a long-term care facility. Instead, the enduring mission of the Johnston R. Bowman Health Center is to transfer its patients from treatment into the most independent lives possible. Construction on the JRB in began 1975, and it was officially opened on Nov. 1, 1976.

Since its founding, the center has developed some of the premier treatment programs in the United States. Most recently, Johnston R. Bowman Center Stroke Rehabilitation Program became the only stroke program in Chicago to be certified as a “Stroke Specialty Program” by the Committee on the Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.

At the JRB’s dedication service in 1977, Rush President James A. Campbell, MD, declared that the center would demonstrate that “the future of the elderly lies not in their isolation, but their incorporation into all the possibilities of a full and good life.” That commitment to bringing geriatric patients to the fullest lives possible endures today, and the continuing excellence of JRB’s programs promises that its mission will continue for many decades to come.

Since we chose their question for this column, Janet Wilson, Karen Lukaszewski and Gayle Shier will each receive a free 8 x 10 print of their choice from the Rush Archives’ collection of over 6,000 historical photographs. If you would like a chance for a free photograph, e-mail your question about Rush’s history to the Rush Archives at

Heather Stecklein is an archivist/librarian with the Rush Archives. Contact the Rush University Medical Center Archives at (312) 942-7214 or or visit us at

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