History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - People - Bios

John M. Cowles


January 12, 1990
Primary Involvements:




John M. Cowles was an active and vibrant member of the LGBT community. John was happy and proud to be gay, and was proactive in LGBT issues. He was a founder and first president of GAMMA, a board member of the Cream City Foundation (CCF), and was active in AIDS awareness and prevention programs as early as 1982.

John was extremely active in every type of sport. He was active in the GAMMA Rays volleyball league, but also played softball, football, bowling, and anything else that came his way. In February 1988 InStep named John "Sportsman of the Year".

In Step listed others of John's contributions; (paraphrased:) "Under his presidency GAMMA was instrumental in helping to form the Monday Night Irregular Bowling League... But, John's real forte has been his involvement with volleyball. Milwaukee sent its first team to a tournament back in 1979, in Columbus Ohio, and John put it together. In October 1982 the Saturday Volleyball League was formed and John was the driving force behind it."

John was one of the most charismatic and friendly of people, and he put that talent to good use in championing gay causes, encouraging involvement and volunteering in gay groups and causes by other individuals. He was also the ideal sportsman and athlete, competitive but enjoying himself whether he won or lost a game. John was one of those rare people who seldom displayed anything but a wide smile and a friendly greeting.

John's professional passions were scientific research and the teaching of science. He attended Marquette University and received a Ph.D. in Organic Chemitsry in 1983. John first worked as an organic chemist at the University of California, San Francisco. At his untimely death he was a Senior Research Chemist at Miller Brewing Company in Milwaukee, where he had obtained two US patents for hops chemistry.

John was responsible for being the laison to the Miller Brewing Company when Milwaukee hosted the Gay World Series in 1986. The Saturday Softball Beer League called on him at the last minute and through John's efforts, Miller made a major contribution, channeled through GAMMA which passed the funds on to the SSBL.

As a board member of the Cream City Foundation (CCF), John was one of the key individuals behind the establishment of the Foundation Community Center, and served on its steering committee as well.

John died of complications of AIDS on January 12, 1990 at the age of 36, leaving a generous gift to the CCF's Endowment Fund.

In remembrance of John's involvement in the community and his devotion to science, the John M. Cowles Memorial Scholarship was initiated in the fall of 1990. The John M. Cowles Scholarship Fund is a special fund established within Cream City Foundation. Scholarships assist deserving LGBT students in Southeastern Wisconsin at the undergraduate level to develop careers in natural sciences; a fitting legacy to John's continued memory.


Sportsman of the Year, 1988

In Memorium, January 1990
(Wis Light vol 3 issue 2)

Credits: bulk of information from various CCF materials and
articles in InStep and Wisconsin Light;
and by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: June-2006.