Camrose celebrates the life of a community builder
Posted on October 7, 2013 by Christopher Thrall
Family, friends and community members gathered to celebrate the life of Berdie Fowler, who passed away Sept. 24 at the age of 93.
Family, friends and community members gathered Sept. 28 at the University of Alberta Augustana’s Faith and Life Chapel to celebrate the life of Berdie Fowler, who passed away Sept. 24 at the age of 93.
Fowler might be best known to Camrose residents as the author of the thoughtful Camrose Booster column, Pen Points, which she penned until three weeks before her death. But as her grandchildren Don Hutchinson and Diane Hutchinson Jackson described to the audience, Berdie Fowler lived a life of extraordinary accomplishments in both her public and private lives.
“When she was born in 1920,” said Don, “women were not legally considered persons in the province of Alberta.” Fowler was the first generation in her family to finish high school. She completed a business course at Camrose Lutheran College and, later, started working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1967. She received an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from Augustana in 2008.
“Before she was thirty, Berdie had lived through a drought, and economic depression and a World War,” said Diane. “And then, in 1952, there was the birth of the Camrose Booster. [Her husband] Bill was the public face of the Booster, and definitely the idea man, but Berdie was the hardworking behind-the-scenes force who held it all together, and she did it while running a household and guiding the upbringing of four kids.”
Fowler was instrumental in establishing the first daycare centre in rural Alberta, the Burgess school for mentally handicapped children and work experience programs at Camrose Composite High School.
In 1972, she became the first female chamber of commerce president in Alberta, one of two elected in all of Canada that year.
“Did you know there were men who resigned from the Camrose Chamber when Berdie became president?” asked Diane.
“No matter who that woman was, they felt she simply could not do the job.”
Fowler was also the first woman to represent the government of Alberta in a trade mission to Europe. She served on Camrose City Council and was the first woman to be appointed to the Alberta Opportunity Board.
“She told me once that she knew she was appointed to some of those positions simply because she was female,” said Diane. “But she said she made darn sure it was her skill and not her gender that kept her at the table.”
In addition to bold traits of determination and a pioneering spirit, Fowler’s grandchildren spoke of her outward composure, meticulous care for her appearance and gracious attitude – never complaining even in times of ill health.
“I’ve always been a great admirer … she was a real leader in the community,” said Camrose-Wetaskiwin MLA Verlyn Olson several days later. “The thing that makes her so much more impressive is her calm manner, her humility; she was such a balanced, reasonable person.”
Mayor Marshall Chalmers also expressed admiration, saying when he first considered entering the local political arena, he went to Berdie Fowler for “words of wisdom” and insight into local politics.
“I sought her out because I recognized her as a really clear thinker, and of course had all the history,” said Chalmers.
“She was a favourite of mine, for sure.”
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