Marlene “Linny” Fowler ‘03H, ‘84P, “89P, ‘01P, and ‘16GP, a well-known Lehigh Valley philanthropist and loyal and generous supporter of Lehigh University, passed away Monday at the age of 73.
The wife of W. Beall Fowler ‘59, professor emeritus of physics at Lehigh, she was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Lehigh in 2003. She is also survived by her sister Elaine Oberkotter Harmon, wife of John Harmon ’59; her brother Harold F. Oberkotter, Jr. ’70; four children and 13 grandchildren. Within the Fowler family, there are ten Lehigh degrees among their siblings, children, and in-laws, and a grandchild is currently a student.
A 1961 graduate of Skidmore College with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, Fowler devoted much of her life to philanthropy and served on numerous Lehigh Valley boards for more than 30 years. She had a special interest in expanding and funding educational opportunities for children – particularly at-risk children. She has been honored many times for her service to the region and beyond.
Beneficiaries of her time and attention included the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation, Center City Ministries, Project Child Hotline, the Allentown Art Museum, the Fowler Education Center at the Banana Factory, the Fowler Family Medical Museum at St. Luke’s Hospital, the Fowler Family Southside Center at Northampton Community College, the Fowler Hispanic Youth Center, the Fowler Wing of the Baum Art School, Valley Youth House’s Camp Fowler in Orefield, the Fowler Literacy Center in Easton, the Beall and Linny Fowler Hospitality House for Women and Children in Allentown, and the First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, where she served as a deacon.
At Lehigh, her legacy of generosity is equally distinctive. She offered philanthropic support to a number of Lehigh initiatives, including the Science Outreach Program, which nurtures an interest in science among local schoolchildren; and the C.O.A.C.H. Program (Community Outreach by Athletes who Care about Helping), which joins Lehigh student athletes with middle and high school student athletes.
Fowler supported the performing and visual arts at Lehigh through gifts to the Zoellner Arts Center and the Lehigh University Art Galleries, and provided funding for various projects and initiatives that included Engineers Without Borders, the STAR Program, Summer Entrepreneurship Camp and Women’s Studies.
With her husband, she was a member of the Tower Society and the Asa Packer Society, and is honored on the university’s Leadership Plaza outside the Alumni Memorial Building.
In 2007, the Fowlers were recognized for their gift to fund the central portion of the renovated Linderman Library reading room, which is now named the Fowler Family Reference Room.
“We love Bethlehem and we love Lehigh. This project enhances both,” said the Fowlers’ at the dedication of the newly restored library. “The community and the university have been critical elements in our lives and in the lives of our family.”
She also established the Fowler Service Award in 2004 to recognize top graduating student-athletes who make a different in the world, and served as president of the Lehigh University Women’s Club.Unparalleled dedication
Fowler’s love of Lehigh began when she met her husband while he was still a student. Over the ensuing decades, her loyalty to the institution was unwavering, and her engagement and generosity benefited countless students, said Joe Kender, vice president of advancement.
“She leaves an incredible legacy here at Lehigh,” said Kender. “She was a true humanitarian who really cared about education and was deeply committed to providing expansive, transformative opportunities to as many young men and women as possible.”
Dale Kochard, assistant vice president for community and regional affairs, worked closely with Fowler on a number community projects over the years and said her generosity and dedication were unparalleled.
"Linny will truly be missed," he said. "Not just for her philanthropy, but for the compassion she felt for her community, especially the youth."
Musikfest founder and ArtsQuest President Jeff Parks ’70 described Fowler as “one of those rare individuals whose actions matched the size of her heart….she was a woman who truly made a difference in our community and in the lives of so many.”
"Linny gave tirelessly to our community over the decades, supporting dozens of youth, community and arts organizations through her volunteerism and philanthropic efforts, inspiring thousands through her hard work, dedication and passion,” he said in a statement. “Her passing leaves a void in our community that will be impossible to fill."
Fowler served on the ArtsQuest Board of Trustees and was instrumental in helping to build and open the Banana Factory and its Fowler Family Visual Arts Education Center on Bethlehem’s South Side.
Photo by Greg Tapler