by Heidi Butler, photo by Randy Monceaux
February 05, 2013
She left without saying goodbye. But what a legacy she left.
Marlene "Linny" Fowler – the woman in whose honor Northampton Community College's Fowler Family Southside Center and many other buildings in the Lehigh Valley are named - passed away unexpectedly on February 4.
One of the Lehigh Valley's leading philanthropists, Linny was a major contributor to numerous organizations and a quiet patron of many artists and students in whom she took a personal interest.
A little over a week before her death she showed up unannounced at Northampton Community College'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 says.
Linny's involvement with Northampton spans more than 30 years. Convinced of the importance of high quality child care, she helped to launch the early childhood education program which has become nationally known for its emphasis on art as a way of learning. More than 1000 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 Northampton to transform the old Bethlehem Steel plant offices on Bethlehem's southside into a community hub where more than 30,000 people a year now come for education, workforce training, medical and dental care, and cultural programs.
When the building was named in the family's honor, Linny said, "When Art Scott, Hap Wagner and David Shaffer approached me with this dream they had about the community college coming to the Southside, I think they thought I was an easy mark because they knew how much I would like to see the southside of Bethlehem restored to its former glory – at the same time preserving some of the legacy of Bethlehem Steel." She lived to see it happen as the Fowler Family Southside Center became a catalyst for further redevelopment in south Bethlehem.
In 2005 Northampton Community College's Alumni Association named Linny an honorary alumna of Northampton, calling her "about as close to being irreplaceable to the Lehigh Valley as one person can be."
The news of Linny's death took the campus community by surprise. Shock and sadness were followed by sharing of many memories.
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."
In addition to being a philanthropist, Linny Fowler was also a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a teacher and an artist.
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."
She walked the walk, and in so doing, opened a path for others.
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