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Country Girl

LuAnn Bowers is not comfortable talking about herself. And yet, people are talking about Bowers at her 35-unit co-op at 55 East 65th Street. As treasurer, she renegotiated the building's mortgage at a much more favorable rate, resulting in a savings of thousands of dollars. She also guided the board through a series of very costly repairs and renovations without increasing maintenance. For her efforts, she won a Habitat Management Achievement Award in 2001.

LuAnn Bowers is a country girl, raised in a small town outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, with horses, rabbits, two dogs, and a chipmunk as pets. When she arrived in Denver to attend college, it seemed like a big city, simply because the airport stayed open all night. "If you would have told me I'd be living in New York City, I would have said you were crazy," Bowers says with a laugh.

And yet, characteristically, after moving to the Big Apple with her husband, Jai, in 1977, she thrived. "I love the energy of New York — and the culture and ethnic diversity. You can find anything you want — any time of day or night." This arrangement seems perfect for someone who admits that "patience is not one of my virtues."

She and her husband bought into 55 East 65th Street in 1979 and, after they were divorced, she took over her husband's role as board treasurer. "I wanted to be part of the board because my apartment is a significant asset, and I wanted to have a say in how it was being managed," she explains.

As an investment banker, Bowers comes well-equipped for the task. Martin Rivkin, whose wife, Marcia, has served as board president of 55 East 65th Street for the past 20 years, says that Bowers is a "dedicated, conscientious guardian" of the building's finances.

Rivkin, who nominated the treasurer for her Habitat award, says that Bowers has a good sense of humor, though he admits "she doesn't suffer fools gladly. She tells you what she thinks. She's pragmatic, a realist, and down-to-earth." Marcia Rivkin agrees, praising Bowers' commitment to the co-op. "She really cares about the building. She's taught us a lot. She explains financial issues to people, rather than making fun of them because they don't know."

Comfortable though she is living in Manhattan, Bowers brought some of her childhood tastes with her. "I love anything spicy — tacos, burritos, Indian food — anything with chili." She continues to cook one of her favorite dishes from India, where she and her former husband spent their honeymoon (he is part-Indian). "There is a curry there made from a tiny mollusk the size of a half-dollar that only lives off the coast of India and Japan. But over here I just use littleneck clams."

Improvisation seems to come naturally to Bowers. Even her presence on the co-op board was a kind of accident. Shortly after she and her husband bought their apartment, they ran into Marcia Rivkin, who said to Jai, "Congratulations. You've been elected to the board!" Because of his financial background, the board had elected him treasurer in his absence. Although he could have refused the position, Jai agreed to serve and did so until the couple's amicable divorce in 1989. At that time, LuAnn took over, and has remained ever since. (It's ironic, she notes, that her Manhattan born-and-bred husband now lives in Arizona, while she resides on the Upper East Side).

As a board member, she has found that it is impossible to please everyone. "You do encounter a lot of a personalities in the building; everyone has their own wish list, things they want, so it's about managing all that. Sometimes you have to talk people out of wanting things by pointing out that it costs money."

Bowers firmly believes that communication with the shareholders is key. One way she does this is through a periodic newsletter telling them what is going on in the building. At the last shareholder meeting, there was a proposal to put new carpeting and wallpaper on every floor. Not knowing whether the other shareholders would feel about paying for this, Bowers took a poll. The response was favorable, and so the board went ahead with the improvements.

Bowers has never been one to shirk confrontation. Years ago, a woman on the seventh floor had a monkey as a pet. One day, she got on the elevator with the monkey on her shoulder, and the animal took a disliking to the man standing next to them and attacked him. At the next board meeting, a rule prohibiting monkeys was passed. In another incident, one of the occupants owned a pipe organ, which he played at all hours of the night. "You could hear it throughout the building," Bowers says. Once again, the board responded, passing a ban on pipe organs.

She also takes personal action. The restaurant across the street from her building used to have a problem with limousine drivers double-parking their cars out front as they waited for their employers to finish dinner. The noise and congestion became intolerable, and so, one day, Bowers went up to one of the drivers and asked him to move, explaining that the constant flow of traffic was causing distress for the occupants of her building. She must have been persuasive, because the problem cleared up.

LuAnn Bowers is happy in New York, but the Upper East Side is a long way from Los Lunas, the tiny town 20 miles southwest of Albuquerque where the rest of Bowers' family still lives. She returns as often as she can, going back to the cactus that blooms pink and red every spring, the arroyos that criss-cross the cracked desert landscape like dried-up arteries, and back to the food of her childhood — burritos, tacos, and crisp fried sopapillas thick with honey and powdered sugar. And her family comes to visit her in New York — to the town where you can get anything you want, any time of day or night.

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