Cover photo for Phillip Duane Rowe's Obituary
Phillip Duane Rowe Profile Photo
1938 Phillip 2024

Phillip Duane Rowe

September 18, 1938 — June 10, 2024


Phillip D. Rowe, 85, Indianapolis passed away on June 10, 2024. He was born Sept. 18, 1938, in Hagerstown, Indiana, to Harold and Irma Alexander Rowe. 

Phil Rowe knew from an early age that he would be a drummer. He explored many other paths during his life – faithful husband, devoted father, private investigator, salesman, leader in church and scouts – but a drummer he remained. In fact, he had performed with Indiana University’s Marching Hundred for 50 years in the annual alumni band.

Phil’s parents, Harold and Irma Alexander Rowe, brought him into the world in Hagerstown, Indiana, on Sept. 18, 1938, and raised him in a house on Harrison Street that his father built only two blocks from Hagerstown Elementary School.

His mother encouraged an interest in music and Phil started taking drum lessons in first grade. By fourth grade, the Hagerstown High School band drafted him. While his father wanted him to play sports, he also encouraged Phil’s drumming, scraping up the money from somewhere to buy Phil’s first drum set, which Phil still has more than 75 years later. When he graduated from HHS, he’d been keeping the beat for the Marching Tigers for nine years.

Band Director Wes Humphrey had gone to IU, where he’d been drum major in the Marching Hundred. He then became a teacher, coming to HHS in Phil’s freshman year. He formed a group called the Hagerstown Jug Band, a 12-member precision marching unit, a Circus Band and a 15-piece Dance Band. When Phil graduated in 1956, the band lost 17 senior members and Wes Humphrey went to another school.

Phil played his first professional job at age 12. Jack Kerkowsky of Richmond taught drums and xylophone and had been coming to Hagerstown weekly to give lessons to Phil and other youngsters. Bob Davis, who was three years ahead of Phil at HHS, was drummer in Kerkowsky's marimba band that traveled all over Ohio and Indiana playing a one hour, 45-minute variety show. Phil took Davis’ place when Bob graduated.

He and singer Jack Hardy both auditioned for and were accepted to a popular regional TV talent show, Schiff’s Star Maker Review, on Cincinnati’s WLW. It aired in black-and-white on Sunday morning and viewers then had until Friday to vote for their favorite musician by sending in postcards. The show put Phil and Jerry on two different weekends because they were from the same small town. Phil waited all week after his performance to see if the producer would call with news that he'd won. He didn’t get that phone call. But Jerry performed that week and said Phil’s name was at the top of the list on a cheater board. Later, the show announced that Phil had actually won the competition. Phil still has the watch he won.

Phil’s TV performance – “my TV debut and swan song” -- served to introduce him to someone who later became his life partner. A girl named Wilma Lee Worl, who hadn’t met Phil at the time, had watched the show and, like many from Hagerstown, sent in a postcard vote for Phil. After high school, Phil left Hagerstown, taking his drums to Indiana University in Bloomington. Wilma became his wife on Aug. 23, 1957. “I told my wife we’ll never starve as long as I have my drums,” Phil said. “I went to IU in ’56 and kids were flipping burgers at 35 to 40 cents an hour and I played a dance for $5 an hour.”

At IU, Phil and three others from his HHS class tried out for the Marching Hundred, an elite group that represents the university to the world. He marched four years with that band. Especially memorable was the year it played at Notre Dame on a Saturday followed by the Chicago Bears on Sunday, and marched in both the inaugural Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade and Kentucky Derby Parade. By 1960, Phil had become president of IU’s chapter of Kappa Kappa Psi, an honorary fraternity for musicians. They decided to enter a team in IU’s Little 500 bicycle race, the only time that has happened. Phil left IU at mid-term in 1960, admitting that he wasn’t the best at studies. He and his band friends in Kappa Kappa Psi stayed in touch.

He decided to try something else to make money. He got an interview for a sales job at the Underwood typewriter company just as the Italian company, Olivetti, was buying them. After a long interview process, Olivetti said they wanted to hire him for a sales job in Indianapolis and would send him by plane for a month of training. After consulting his father and his wife in Bloomington, he accepted. By the time he got back, Harold and Wilma had rented a house for them in Speedway and Phil started working the day after Christmas. He stayed with Olivetti and did well enough that they made him a sales supervisor in Kansas City, Kansas. He didn’t stay there long and returned to Indianapolis. Then he became friends with people at a law firm who encouraged him to become an investigator. They told him there were plenty of investigators for defense attorneys but few for plaintiffs’ attorneys. Phil started Legal Investigators, Inc., in 1968, and it grew until an economic crunch in 1972-73.

By then, Phil had cultivated some loyal clientele. One, a partner in one of the state's largest law firms, Barnes & Thornburg, encouraged him to come work there. Within days, the firm put him on one month contract. When it was up, Phil got a permanent position there, with his own office, helping for nearly 30 years by gathering evidence the law firm used in defending car companies from accident claims.

All along, he had kept in touch with a group of Kappa Kappa Psi alumni who, Phil said, would “get together and swap lies.” They talked about having an alumni band. In 1970, the first alumni band – with Phil as its president -- took to the field and played with the Marching Hundred at homecoming. It has become an annual event. Phil played every show for 50 years. Proudly, he notes that the Marching Hundred Alumni Association has become a constituent society of the IU Alumni Association. He and Wilma retired a month apart in October 2000. They had decided to get an RV and travel for five years. After spending two years in Florida and a year in Texas, they found a retirement community they liked at Lake Placid, Florida. There they lived until 2014, when they returned to Indianapolis. Wilma died in 2016. Phil would tell you they had been married 59 years, three months and 14 days.

The couple had three children: Teresa Bradley, whose husband Daniel died in February 2021; Donald, married to Cathy; and Bradley, who died in April 2021, and was married to Cindy. Donald and Cathy have three daughters: Emily, married to Andrew Bean, whose daughter is Lainey; Jennifer, married to Zach Crowe, whose children are Max and Jack; and Lauren, married to Christopher Mabee, whose children are Carson, Logan and Henry. Brad and Cindy have three sons: Benjamin, married to Kelsey, whose children are Eleanor and Eugene; Andrew, married to Natalie, whose child is Solomon; and Jason, married to Kathleen, whose son is Michael Bradley Rowe.

Phil had been a Boy Scout in Troop 3, Hagerstown, earning the First Class rank. He recalled summer camps at Kikthewenund, speedboating on lakes in northern Indiana, and the troop’s annual tradition, the Trial of Grit, under leadership of Ted Sedgwick, HHS vocational teacher. As an adult, Phil became an active Boy Scout leader in Indianapolis, serving in several capacities for more than 60 years. Both sons and three grandsons earned the Eagle Scout award. He had received the Silver Beaver Award, the highest adult award given by local Scout councils; the District Award of Merit; and served as the council vice president for Exploring, where he received the Bronze Bighorn and the Big E Award. He attended two national jamborees as a health officer. He also worked with Wilma in his daughter’s Girl Scout activities.

He has been a member of the Pleasant Run Golf Course Old Timers League for over 10 years. It’s a collection of golfers over 60 years old who golf twice a week.

He was part of a group from the Hagerstown High School Class of 1956 that worked more than two years to have a vinyl entrance window covering designed and installed at the school. His class celebrated that accomplishment during its 65-year reunion at Jubilee Days in 2021. He helped build the former Asbury United Methodist Church at 42nd Street and Post Roads. He has been a Mason and a member of the Scottish Rite for more than 50 years.

A memorial service will be held on Thursday, June 20, 2024 from 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. with a memorial service starting at 7:00 p.m. at Indiana Funeral Care, 8151 Allisonville Rd. Indpls. Another memorial will be conducted at Hagerstown First United Methodist Church, 199 S. Perry St. on June 25, 2024 with visitation from 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. and service to follow at 2:00 p.m.

 Memorial gifts are suggested to Crossroads of America Council Boy Scouts of America or to the Indiana University band department.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Phillip Duane Rowe, please visit our flower store.


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