Jean Ann McDowell passed away on Feb. 13 at the vintage age of 95. McDowell was born in Kansas, where she spent her childhood, but she was destined for points west in Colorado and Utah. Even in Wichita she grew a garden of cactus when Country Clubs, lawns and roses were in vogue. Always a feisty person, the story goes that she may have shoved her little brother into the cactus garden after a spat.
The mountains of Colorado drew her to Colorado University and a degree in geology. She met her future husband, Bill McDowell, in the Colorado Mountain Hiking Club. They were both very active in hiking all around Boulder, and enjoyed skiing and rafting. The family boated many of the rivers in Colorado, and were some of the lucky few to raft the Glen Canyon of the Colorado River (now under Lake Powell).
Daughters, Sandy (husband Geoff Freethey) and Susan (Matti, Steinberg) McDowell, completed the family. Bill was a civil engineer and McDowell a housewife and mother, typical for the times. Even during this period McDowell was interested in many topics and activities; including politics and comparative religious discussions, reading groups and square dancing.
After the daughters were grown and off starting their own lives, McDowell and Bill had an amicable divorce. When the household items were divided Bill chivalrously gave McDowell the first choice of the shared items. McDowell chose the family raft, much to Bill’s surprise. This was the beginning of a very active phase of her life in Utah, running many of the rivers in the western states with family and friends.
Before Utah, McDowell moved to Alaska (she was a counselor to native girls living away from home), then on to Grand Junction, Colorado, as a social worker at the care center and a place where she enjoyed hikes with the G.J. Outings Group, making new friends
The lure of desert hiking ultimately led her to settle in Moab in the late 1980s. To put this time period into perspective, McDowell’s house was one, of only two, building permits in 1987. With the house framing complete, (thank you, Jim Nelson), McDowell collected and mortared in the sandstone rocks for the entire house exterior. Next came landscaping the yard with native plants. McDowell always knew the names of so many Southwestern plants, and would talk about local geology whenever asked.
Other activities in Moab included time spent with the League of Women Voters, the Book Club, and hours were spent at the recycle center with friends, handsorting the items the old way. Notably, McDowell served for 15 years as the director/curator of the Dan O’Laurie Museum as it transitioned into the Museum of Moab.
More than anything, McDowell loved sitting around a campfire with friends and family. She enjoyed so many car camping and backpack trips in search of rock art found in our canyon country. She loved road trips, driving all around the West. She drove her trusty little Volkswagen Rabbit, later upgrading to a Toyota Four Runner, everywhere on 4×4 roads. She loved those dirt roads.
McDowell was fortunate to have a recent gathering of Sandy, Susie, Geoff, and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was proud of the people they have become.
A special thank you is extended to all of the caregivers who provided so much comfort and care to McDowell and her daughters.
McDowell was “one of a kind,” who inspired many and shared her life surrounded by friendship. She will be truly missed. A celebration of her life will be held at a later date around a campfire. Please send cards or messages to the Spanish Valley Mortuary, 386 N. 100 West. In lieu of flowers, if you desire, please send a donation to Grand County Search and Rescue so that the adventures will continue.
At McDowell’s request, cremation has taken place and no service is planned at this time.
Condolences may be sent to the family at www.SpanishValleyMortuary.com.