'Linny of the Valley'
Where to begin?
And even now, it is difficult to believe that you will not see her happy, smiling face, twinkling eyes and hear her cheerful voice greeting you at the next Bethlehem First Friday in the Fowler & Pena Creations stained glass studio at the Banana Factory.
First Friday will not be the same without her.
In spirit, of course, Linny Fowler will be there, as she will be all around the Lehigh Valley at the many venues and programs she and her husband Dr. W. Beall Fowler Jr. funded through their exquisite sense of philanthropy.
Marlene "Linny" Fowler died at her home Feb. 4. She was 73.
Ironically, a day later, another giant of area philanthropy, Priscilla Payne Hurd, died Feb. 5. She was 93.
And let us not forget that another Valley philanthropist, Inez Donley, 97, wife of Edward Donley, retired Air Products president and CEO, died Jan. 27.
Inez Donley, Linny Fowler and Priscilla Payne Hurd left an indelible legacy in the Lehigh Valley and beyond.
Inez and her husband founded The Donley Foundation, dedicated to promoting self-sufficiency and achievement for disadvantaged children, individuals, and families through the support of education, literacy and other means.
For more than 35 years, Mrs. Donley was a supporter of KidsPeace as a board member, honorary board member and through donations she and her husband, Edward, gave.
The Donley name graces buildings on KidsPeace North Whitehall campus, including Donley Therapeutic Education Center, Orefield, and lives on through the Donley Society, which recognizes annual financial contributors.
Priscilla Payne Hurd is remembered through the Payne Gallery on the Priscilla Payne Hurd campus of Moravian College, downtown Bethlehem, where she was a trustee, and at St. Luke's University Hospital, where she was also a trustee, with the Priscilla Payne Hurd Pavilion at the Fountain Hill facility honoring her.
Marlene "Linny" Fowler helped fund, to name a few, Northampton Community College Fowler Family Southside Center, Fowler Hispanic Youth Center, Zoellner Arts Center, Pennsylvania Youth Theatre, Touchstone Theatre, all Bethlehem; Fowler Wing at the Baum School of Art, Allentown; Lehigh Carbon Community College Fowler Education Center, Schnecksville, North Whitehall Township; Valley Youth House Camp Fowler, Orefield, North Whitehall Township; Fowler Literacy Center, State Theatre Center for the Arts, both Easton; and the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Center Valley, Upper Saucon Township.
She served on the boards of many nonprofits and received numerous area awards and honors.
Linny and her husband were largely responsible for making the ArtsQuest Fowler Arts and Education Center at the Banana Factory a reality and were early backers of SteelStacks.
A painting by Rigo Peralta, "Dancing thru de metal' (60 in. by 108 in., mixed media on linen, 2009) was purchased by Fowler and hangs in the Fowler Blast Furnace Room at ArtsQuest Center.
It's perhaps appropriate that Linny was heir to a UPS fortune after her father, former UPS Chief Executive Harold Oberkotter, died in 1982.
Not unlike the guaranteed delivery firm, Fowler delivered. Linny was there, not only as an "angel," but as patron and audience member. She was an arts enthusiast, and an advocate of individuals, no matter the race, creed or economic status.
1,100 at memorial service
An estimated 1,100 attended the standing-room memorial service for Linny Fowler, followed by a reception, on a sunny, crisp Feb. 10 afternoon at First Presbyterian Church, Bethlehem.
The event included classical music and hymns, the latter sung by Grace Spruiell and Budd Di Stefano, accompanied by Greg Funfgeld at the piano.
First Presbyterian senior pastor, The Rev. Dr. Alf E. Halvorson, quoting from and referencing playwright George Bernard Shaw, observed, "Linny Fowler burned brightly, didn't she?"
Said the Rev. Msgr. Robert J. Biszek, pastor of Holy Infancy, Bethlehem, "She put many minority children through college, through law school, through medical school." Linny also funded Holy Infancy students' Banana Factory art classes, Holy Infancy's Scouting program and brought the Allentown Symphony Orchestra to perform at the school.
"She actually went to our school and read to our children. She would have been, for us, at Holy Infancy, the Mother Theresa of Bethlehem."
Sonia Vasquez, principal of Donegan Elementary School, Bethlehem Area School District, said, "We must rejoice in having known her rather than the thought of having lost her."
As students in the Junior Police Cadets Program, which Linny sponsored, marched in lines and stood by, Vasquez said, choking back tears, "She is leaving a legacy in the lives of those she touched. Her legacy will continue to live on."
Jeff Parks, ArtsQuest president and founder, said, "It is Linny's extraordinary capacity to love that brings us together today." He noted that Pat Kesling, retired ArtsQuest development director, introduced him to Linny, whose "insight changed the Banana Factory."
Choked up with emotion, Parks said Linny's concept for the arts center, which opened in 1998, was as a place "where everyone has access to the arts, especially at-risk children." Thousands of middle school students participate in Banana Factory's B-Smart after-school arts program.
Parks noted Linny and Beall were early supporters of BethWorks and soon ArtsQuest's SteelStacks $70-million public-private project.
"She had so much capacity for love," said Parks. "She leaves a legacy for everyone, having touched more souls than we can imagine."
Alan Jennings, executive director of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, said, "How, really, do you find the words for someone who made her own history?
"You can sum up Linny's life, Linny's motivation, Linny's kindness, Linny's generosity, in one word: love, love, love," Jennings said, beginning to sing the chorus of The Beatles' song "All You Need Is Love," with the audience joining in.
Williams Harris, a college graduate glass artist, said, "She had such an exquisite outlook on life. She was an icon of hope and love."
Beall Fowler recalled of his wife, "She truly loved this community and its people."
Cameron Fowler, speaking for his siblings, Wyman, Virginia and Christopher, and their spouses and 13 grandchildren, noted that Northampton County executive John Stoffa referred to her as "Linny of the Valley."
"One of my friends likened her to Mother Goose," adding, "Despite advice from doctors and friends to cut back, she kept going."
In concluding remarks, Rev. Halvorson recalled that Linny had told him, "'I'm blessed to be a blessing.'"
At the reception with Catering by Karen Hunter and a slideshow of Fowler family photos in First Presbyterian's Fellowship Hall, Congressman Charlie Dent (R-15th) said, "Linny had an enormously generous spirit.
"She just touched the lives of so many people in very memorable ways. Whether it was the arts, education or children services, she could always be counted on."
Rose Ackerman, development director emeritus at the Baum School of Art, recalled how Linny funded Linny's Kids, providing arts instruction at Baum annually for nearly 100 at-risk youths.
"She had a big heart, big love," said Rudy Ackerman director of collections and exhibitions at Baum. "Everything she did was big," noting Linny's funding of the Baum addition, named the Fowler Wing.
Accolades for Fowler poured in last week via email press releases and on social media.
Da Vinci Center
A Da Vinci Science Center statement noted, "Linny Fowler and her husband, W. Beall Fowler, Ph.D., shaped the early years of what is known today as the Da Vinci Science Center, serving as a Founding Trustee since it became an independent nonprofit organization in 1999.
"Their generous support included the lead gift toward constructing the Center's building in Allentown."
Stated Da Vinci Science Center chairman Frank K. Schweighardt, Ph.D., and MaryAnn Woods Przekurat, Da Vinci interim executive director and CEO:
"Linny Fowler was a pillar of our organization whose tireless dedication to educating and empowering young people will have a profound impact throughout our region for countless generations to come.
"Her generous commitment of time and resources and her passion for the Da Vinci Science Center's mission have been instrumental in our success. Like Leonardo da Vinci himself, her exemplary life in the arts and sciences is an inspiration to all of us who had the pleasure of knowing her."
Miller Symphony Hall
A statement from Miller Symphony, Hall, Allentown, emphasized: "As one of the most generous souls in our community, we remember our friend and supporter Mrs. Marlene 'Linny' Fowler.
"Linny most recently served on the board of directors of the Allentown Symphony, but her greatest love was for the children of our community. She brought arts and music education to the forefront of many organizations, including the Allentown Symphony Association.
"She made possible the project of adding the Education Wing to Miller Symphony Hall, which provides practice and lesson rooms for Community Music School, and warm-up rooms for symphony musicians and guest artists.
"Linny is a founding supporter of our flourishing El Sistema Lehigh Valley program which serves children in the Allentown School District in an after-school program of music lessons and ensemble instruction. She joyfully attended many of the concerts put on by the children, and loved to watch them grow as musicians, students, and artists," according to the statement.
Stated Sheila Evans, executive director of the Allentown Symphony Association: "El Sistema Lehigh Valley is helping 80 children a day at Roosevelt Elementary School in Allentown. We could not have begun this program without Linny's support. She supported the vision by donating over 80 musical instruments to start."
Stated Diane Wittry, music director of the Allentown Symphony, "Linny's generosity toward helping change lives through music and the arts throughout the Lehigh Valley will have a lasting impact on the region. "
Concluded the Miller Symphony Hall statement: "We will remember Linny as a 'bringer-together' of the arts in the Lehigh Valley. Her interests and altruism spanned every sector of the arts and her name is proudly displayed in all corners of the Lehigh Valley on buildings and foundations that may not have survived without her caring spirit."
Northampton Community College
Linny's involvement with Northampton Community College (NCC) spans more than 30 years. Convinced of the importance of high-quality child care, she helped to launch the early childhood education program, nationally-known for its emphasis on art as a way of learning. More than 1,000 child care professionals have learned to be effective teachers there.
In the mid-1990s, Linny and her husband Beall made a major gift that enabled NCC to transform the former Bethlehem Steel Corp. plant offices on Bethlehem's south side into NCC's Fowler Family Southside Center, a community hub where more than 30,000 people a year now come for education, workforce training, medical and dental care, and cultural programs. She lived to see the Fowler Family Southside Center became a catalyst for further redevelopment in south Bethlehem.
NCC president Mark Erickson described Linny as "a great lady with a huge heart," pointing out that "she cared deeply about the community, but she cared even more about the people as individuals. She didn't just write checks. She took a personal interest in the people she helped."
A little over a week before her death she showed up unannounced at NCC's winter commencement to personally congratulate one of those students on completing a degree in fine arts. "She was like a grandmother to me," Omar Sanchez said.
In an interview in the Northampton Community College magazine in 2002, she was asked what advice she had for students. "Prioritize," she said. "Make time for those things that are important and for what you really like to do."
Said Shelley Brown, State Theatre president and CEO, and Denise Smith, State Theatre vice president, development, in a statement:
"Marlene 'Linny' Fowler was a kind soul, who lived passionately and gave generously to people and organizations all throughout our region.
"Linny was a true supporter of the arts in every way. She was a long-time donor to the State Theatre, as well as a board member emeritus. She truly understood how the arts enrich lives, and she was an advocate for the causes that she believed in.
"We met with Linny just a few weeks ago, and she expressed her excitement regarding the 2013 Freddy Awards. Linny's face always lit up when she watched students from high schools all over our region perform with such enthusiasm.
"While she won't be here with us this year for the Freddys in the traditional sense, her spirit and her impact live on in our hearts."
Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival
Remembered Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival (PSF) officials in a statement: "Marlene 'Linny' Fowler gave of herself, and those gifts continue.
"PSF's Linny Fowler WillPower tour is endowed in such a way that her support will, like Shakespeare's words, last "not for an age but for all time," and continue to provide inspiration to this community she supported so generously."
As for me, what I and perhaps many of us will remember most is those times when Linny would take you aside at First Friday or another area arts event or fundraiser to enthusiastically tell you about her latest passion and project.
In a voice that could only be described as a stage whisper, she'd praise an ArtsQuest endeavor, Touchstone Theatre presentation, or the young person playing the harpsichord in the Banana Factory Fowler & Pena studio.
The Linny legacy will live on. Linny embodied the excellence of innocence. She was childlike, not childish. And now her delightful stained glass art will adorn those mansions of glory where she surely dwells.