Leadership Profile

College Saddened by Passing of Philanthropist Marlene “Linny” Fowler

When Marlene “Linny” Oberkotter Fowler passed away on February 4, one of the great philanthropists and people in the Lehigh Valley was sadly lost. The 73-year-old Fowler was was always quick to deliver kindness to people and organizations that shared her vision.

Linny Fowler receiving the 2009 Associates Award

This included Cedar Crest College, for which she and her family, including sister, Elaine Oberkotter Harmon, a 1959 graduate of the College, served as ardent benefactors. Fowler’s niece and Elaine Oberkotter Harmon’s daughter, Wendy Harmon Gironda, is a 1982 Cedar Crest College graduate.

Fowler earned the Associates Award from the College’s Board of Associates in 2009, for her outstanding leadership, volunteerism and commitment to the Lehigh Valley community.
“Linny Fowler supported many causes and touched the lives of nearly everyone in the Lehigh Valley—including every Cedar Crest College student over the past several years,” said Cedar Crest College President Carmen Twillie Ambar. Ambar noted that Fowler’s generosity lives on in the Oberkotter Center for Health and Wellness on the campus, which she and members of her family funded a decade ago. “Linny loved young people of any age. She happily came to see my triplets, reading to them and playing games, even as she funded scholarships for college-aged Cedar Crest students. Linny was a true pillar of the community, and a one-of-a-kind person whose kindness and generosity can never be fully replaced. She will be greatly missed.”

Peace Dove
co-created by Linny Fowler
on display in the Harmon Hall of Peace

Fowler earned distinction throughout the Lehigh Valley as a generous community volunteer, humanitarian and artist. Since arriving in Pennsylvania nearly 40 years ago, the Bethlehem resident touched a wide range of local organizations through her prolific work and support. Fowler served on numerous Lehigh Valley boards for more than 30 years, with special emphasis on advancing the missions of education, children and youth at risk, and the Latino community.

She belonged to countless organizations and won numerous awards and honors for her community service including the Edward & Inez Donley Award for Lifetime Advocacy for Children from Community Services for Children, Inc. and the Humanitarian Award from the Council of Spanish-Speaking Organizations. She was honored by the Weller Health Education Center, the Baum School of Art, the Banana Factory, the Allentown Art Museum, Moravian Academy, Pinebrook Services for Children, and the Children’s Coalition of the Lehigh Valley to name a few.

Fowler served as president of the Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations of the Lehigh Valley and worked with the CAPERS program in Bethlehem. She also served on the boards of ArtsQuest, the DaVinci Discovery Center for Science and Technology, the Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations of the Lehigh Valley, Lehigh Valley Child Care, the Fund to Benefit Children & Youth, Valley Youth House, State Theatre, Sayre Children’s Center in Bethlehem and Bethlehem Center City Ministries.

In addition, Fowler worked to support countless organizations throughout the region including Valley Youth House, Cops n’ Kids, the Community Services for Children Donley Center, Zoellner Arts Center, The State Theatre Center for the Arts, The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, Allentown Symphony and Pennsylvania Youth Theatre among others. Fowler also founded and financed the Lehigh Valley Coalition for Kids as well as founded and chaired the Lehigh Valley Coalition Against Addiction, and was the former president of Hogar CREA.

During the last two decades, Fowler also became one of the champions of the arts in the Lehigh Valley—for which she was honored with the Allentown Arts Commissions’ Arts Ovation Award. Fowler provided her time, talent and financial support to countless arts and cultural organizations. Her generosity and her hands-on advocacy are credited with having made a greater impact on the accessibility of the full range of artistic and cultural opportunities to children than anyone else in the region. Much of her energy was devoted to introducing children at risk to the arts, supporting educational programs for youth and improving the quality of life through art for all people.

A longtime advocate for arts in education, she recognized the importance of the arts in the development and education of all children. An artist herself, she provided art supplies and lent a hand in art lessons to the poorest of elementary schools and Head Start Centers. She supported art therapy at Valley Youth House for runaways. Through “Linny’s Kids,” a scholarship program at the Baum School of Art, she provided support for children to attend art classes at the school. Her sponsorship of Free Sundays at the Allentown Art Museum increased attendance by those who might not otherwise be able to enjoy the Museum's treasures, and this single act of generosity has benefitted 30,000 visitors.

Dr. and Mrs. W. Beall Fowler, Jr

A self-taught stained glass artist, Fowler, with her artistic partner Octavio Pena, operated Fowler & Pena Creations—creating stained glass pieces for both commercial installation and private collections. Their stained glass studio is housed in the Banana Factory in Bethlehem. Fowler, who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in biology from Skidmore College, received honorary degrees from Lehigh and DeSales universities. She also is an honorary alumna of Northampton Community College.

Fowler is survived by her husband, Dr. W. Beall Fowler, Jr., four children and many grandchildren.