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In memoriam: Dennis Bower was activist atheist, active outdoorsman

Dennis Ray Bower, FFRF Lifetime Member and past president of the Inland Northwest Freethought Society, died of bladder cancer on April 4 at the age of 63.

Dennis was born in Mt. Clemens, Mich., but as an infant moved to Spokane, Wash., where he lived the rest of his life. He attended West Valley schools and was a Boy Scout. He was also an accomplished drummer and formed his own rock band in the 1970s. He worked for Kaiser Aluminum and retired after 43 years as a boiler-house operator.

Dennis strongly espoused the principle of separation of church and state and was a committed voice for freethought through FFRF and the FFRF-affiliated Inland Northwest Freethought Society (INFS) for more than 20 years.

In INFS, Dennis served as an elected officer in several capacities and took the helm of INFS president twice. One of the earliest members to join in the 1990s (when the group still went by the name of the PAINE Society, named after Thomas Paine — People Actively Into Non-Theistic Ethics), he was directly involved in lobbying for a brass plaque to be placed on the Centennial Trail in downtown Spokane, which reads: “Preserve America. Keep Church and State Separate. INFS 1998.”

Although his family never recognized his secular world view — he lost friends and family members because of it — Dennis remained an outspoken and ardent atheist. He attended several FFRF conventions and encouraged other INFS members to join him. As president, he initiated the rule that only FFRF members would have voting privileges in INFS, and even offered half-price FFRF memberships to new members, with Dennis personally providing the matching funds, to encourage them to join FFRF.

When INFS sponsored its first booth at the Spokane County Fair, Dennis decided that it needed a large scrapbook to place on the booth’s counter for fairgoers to peruse. INFS members met at his house to complete the ardurous task of cutting out hundreds of pages from back issues of Freethought Today that Dennis had saved for years and gluing them into a thick scrapbook — nearly 12 years of “Black Collar Crime.” He wanted to have something visual and substantial to present when someone contended that religion did a lot of good in the world.

An avid outdoorsman, Dennis enjoyed hiking, camping, climbing and kayaking. He biked the Hiawatha Trail several times with other INFS members and climbed Mount Rainier. In 2008, he climbed Mount Maude in the Cascades with fellow INFS members David Roeder and Kurt Wyant and Dennis’s dog, Rowan, for the first freethought mountain climb. David and Kurt took pictures holding a copy of Freethought Today at the summit, but Dennis had to retreat earlier because of an injury to his dog’s foot. Dennis decided that the second INFS mountain climb would surpass the first.

He immediately sent FFRF an announcement inviting all FFRF members across the nation to join him in tackling the 9,082-foot peak Mount Maude again in July 2009. This time, Dennis and five other INFS members made the climb. When the group successfully reached the summit, they held up a large yellow banner with words from John Lennon’s song “Imagine”: “Above us only sky” and the words “Team FFRF.”

In 2009, as president of INFS, Dennis lobbied for the creation of a special recognition award “for the advancement of Enlightenment values, selfless community service, and radiant good humor.” Called the INFS Achievement Award, it has been awarded to just eight people, including Dennis, posthumously.

“True to his own example, we celebrate his devotion to truth, his strength without insolence, his courage without ferocity or anger,” reads his INFS Achievement Award. “He was an honorable man, who looked at the world objectively, fearlessly, but trying always, in an empathetic way, to understand all things as part of nature.   

“Few individuals can match Dennis’s stalwart support for advancing the ideals of rationalism and freethought in the Inland Northwest. In recognition of a lifetime of unwavering commitment to truth, science, calm reason and non-theistic ethics, we honor Dennis Ray Bower as the eighth recipient of the Inland Northwest Freethought Achievement Ward, this 8th day of September, 2019.”

Editor’s note: FFRF thanks Elizabeth Rose of INFS for providing the information for this obituary.

Dennis Bower, far right, and five other members of INFS climbed to the summit of Washington’s Mount Maude in 2009.
Dennis Bower