Published originally in the Spring 2009 issue of the Berea College Magazine
by Christopher Porter
As a private money manager, Shirley Fowler has always been impressed by how Berea handles its finances. “I have watched your balance sheets with interest,” she once wrote to president John Stephenson, “and I agree with your objectives. As you know, I have admired and supported Berea for years.” Tied to her understated admiration is a deep respect for the Berea mission born from personal experience.
Like many Berea students, Shirley was the first in her immediate family to graduate from college. Hard work won her scholarships to Kalamazoo College, which enabled her to attend the University of Michigan and study statistical mathematics. Berea’s tradition of making education available to students of limited means resonated with Shirley. Soon, she wasn’t just supporting Berea financially. She was asking, “What can I do to help?”
“When you first meet Shirley, you quickly learn how big her heart is,” says Rod Bussey, former Vice President of Alumni Relations and Development, who asked Shirley to serve on the President’s Council and assist the Development Office with fundraising. As a volunteer for the college, Shirley accompanied Development staff on calls in Washington, D.C., met with Berea students and hosted luncheons for major donors. “People would ask why I was there,” Shirley remembers. “I felt I could offer them a different perspective, as someone who wasn’t employed by the college.”
Burt Shirley’s efforts didn’t stop with her volunteer work, In 1998, she and her late husband, Howland, wanted to endow a fund for Berea students. Because of Howland’s work as a scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Shirley’s love of mathematics, they created the Howland A. and Shirley B. Fowler Summer Science Research Fund. Since 2001, this fund has supported students and professors on summer research projects, and experience which is often a student’s first step in pursuing further studies in the sciences.
From her volunteer work to her gifts, Shirley’s dedication to Berea is steeped in family tradition. Her parents were early supporters of the college, and Howland was deeply loyal to Berea’s mission. Once her daughters Joanna and Amy completed their education, Shirley encouraged them to give to Berea. And they do, supporting Berea to acknowledge the role education has played in their lives. Now the third generation to support the college, they share their mother’s satisfaction in making life better for others by making education available to all.