'A dreamer at heart': Friends pay tribute to Bethlehem's Mother Teresa
The Bethlehem area and broader Lehigh Valley community showed an outpouring of love, respect and gratitude for Bethlehem resident and philanthropist Marlene "Linny" Fowler at a Feb. 10 memorial service held in the First Presbyterian Church sanctuary before a standing room only crowd.
Community activists, organization representatives, educators, elected officials, students, friends and family were among the many who gathered to remember Fowler's kindness and support, and her impact on individuals and the community at large.
The 90-minute service featured remembrances from several community leaders, a beneficiary of Fowler's support and the Fowler family. Interspersed with readings from the Scriptures and musical selections, each speaker related experiences that revealed the gift Linny Fowler had given to many through her boundless love.
The Rev. Monsignor Robert Biszek spoke about Fowler's involvement with the Holy Infancy School in Southside Bethlehem, as a group of Holy Infancy students displayed a poster that said, "Holy Infancy Loves Linny." He called her "the Mother Teresa of Bethlehem."
Donegan ES Principal Sonia Vazquez, her voice breaking at times, identified Fowler as "devoted, motivated and inspirational" in her address, as members of the Summer School Police Cadet Program that Fowler supported stood at attention across the front of the church.
ArtsQuest President Jeff Parks showed emotion as he described Fowler, saying, "When I think of Linny, love is the thing that comes to mind.
"The best tribute to Linny would be to expand our capacity to love and recognize needs when they exist," said Parks, who recounted the support that Fowler and her husband Beall had provided for the arts at both the Banana Factory and SteelStacks.
Calling his opportunity to remember Linny Fowler "the honor of a lifetime," Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley Executive Director Alan Jennings broke into singing the Beatles' "All You Need is Love" as a tribute. "We are here today to honor someone who rarely returned a call, missed many meetings, and asked too many questions," said Jennings, which brought a roar of laughter from the congregation. "How do you memorialize someone whose love knew no bounds," he asked rhetorically.
Perhaps the words of remembrance provided by William Harris best demonstrated how Fowler's influence could impact individuals. The young artist met her at the Banana Factory as a teenager. He recounted how she and artist Octavio Pena had taken him under their wings.
"She always had a way of seeing the good in people and was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt," said Harris. "She was a dreamer at heart," he added. Fowler helped Harris to attend California College of the Arts, where he earned his BFA in glass-making and art design.
Flanked by their four children, Wyman, Virginia, Cameron and Christopher, Fowler's husband Beall briefly thanked everyone for their support and kind expressions of sympathy before Cameron addressed the congregation. He recalled Northampton County Executive John Stoffa dubbing her "Linny of the Valley" when she received the Lehigh Valley's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.
"She was more," said Cameron, reflecting on her family role as wife, daughter, mother, sister and grandmother, and her love of the beach, where family vacations were regular events, "She reveled in her role as matriarch of the family."
The service was conducted by the Rev. Dr. Alf Halvorson, senior pastor at First Presbyterian. Greg Funfgeld, artistic director and conductor of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, provided music and Bach Choir soprano Grace Spruiell and Fowler family friend Budd Di Stefano performed various selections.
The Fowler family welcomed family and friends at a reception in the church hall immediately following the service.