Longtime Claremonter, preservationist, activist, kindergarten teacher, volunteer
Longtime Claremont resident and activist Barbara Fowler died peacefully in hospice care Tuesday, January 28 in Shreveport, Louisiana, surrounded by family. She was 89.
Born in 1930 in Glendale, California to Loren and Lois Blakeley, Barbara was raised in Santa Ana. She spent summers on her grandparents’ apricot farm in Hemet, and was active in the Congregational Church Pilgrim Fellowship as a teen.
She attended Pomona College, majoring in sociology, and began dating Ray Fowler (Pomona ‘50) as an undergraduate. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1952. The couple married that year and moved to Northern California, where she founded and directed the nursery school at the Oakland First Methodist Church while Mr. Fowler earned his divinity degree at Pacific School of Religion.
The family moved to Claremont in 1955, when Mr. Fowler took a post as assistant minister at Claremont United Church of Christ. They bought the house at the corner of Seventh Street and Yale Avenue, a block from the church, and settled in to raise their daughters Sarah and Lauren.
From 1959 to 1962, the Fowlers lived in Izmir, Turkey, while Mr. Fowler fulfilled a teaching mission at the church-founded American Collegiate Institute. Ms. Fowler officially taught English as a second language at the school part time, and unofficially assisted neighbor children in learning the language, and navigated the joys and challenges of running a household in a very different culture.
She also directed the school’s bookmobile program, for which the Fowlers drove to rural villages on Saturdays with a handful of ACI students to distribute books to public schoolchildren. The Fowlers spent summers traveling in the Middle East and Europe with other missionary families.
When they returned home to Claremont, she continued her studies in early childhood development at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, ultimately earning a master of arts in early childhood education from Claremont Graduate University.
Her long teaching career with the Pomona Unified School District began in the then-new Head Start program, and continued over 30 years as a kindergarten teacher at Lincoln School.
She and Mr. Fowler became activists for historic preservation in the late 1960s as they watched their neighbors the Woodfords’ house across the street demolished and citrus groves targeted for development. She was one of a core group of citizens who undertook a door-to-door petition drive in a grassroots effort that succeeded in creating the Claremont Historic District in the city’s zoning plan in 1971. While the zoning change was not yet assured, the Fowlers used personal finances to save two old houses from demolition.
In the late 1980s the Fowlers championed another historic preservation cause: saving the 1908 Barbara Greenwood Kindergarten bungalow in Pomona. They served as foundation board members and docents for the building for decades.
Passionate about the environment, the Fowlers were pioneers in small scale solar projects, installing solar panels on their home and small rental properties in old Claremont. They were also passionate about the beauty and importance of trees, and worked tirelessly at every level to save Claremont’s trees from the threats of budget cuts, drought politics, and ill-advised pruning.
Her daughter remembers that at one point when the city was contemplating the removal of all the elms along Indian Hill Boulevard due to the threat of disease, her mother threatened to chain herself to a tree. (The record does not show whether this contributed to her later receipt of Sustainable Claremont’s Tree Champion Award.)
Like many longtime residents, Ms. Fowler’s years in Claremont were filled with volunteer activities and service with various organizations, including the League of Women Voters, Claremont Reading Conference, Claremont Civic Association, Claremont Heritage, Sustainable Claremont, Tree Action Group (TAG), city parks and recreation and Pilgrim Place.
The Fowlers supported many additional local and regional organizations across their many interests, including museums, libraries, music groups, cemeteries and parks, and any political cause that promoted the needs of people and nature over profit. The deep friendships formed with like-minded individuals in these groups reached far beyond the activities and goals of the organizations.
In 2017 the Fowlers were honored to receive the Claremont Heritage Lifetime Achievement Award, “for many years of service and contribution to the preservation of our cultural, natural, and built environment.”
Although Claremont remained home in their hearts, in 2017 the Fowlers moved to Louisiana to be near their daughter Sarah and her family.
“The Fowler apartment in the retirement community overlooks ponds with a background of huge trees lining the Pierre Bayou, where, as in heaven, the trees always have enough water and are free to grow into their most vibrant natural potential,” the family shared.
She is survived by her husband of 67 years, C. Ray Fowler; daughters, Sarah (Phil Boswell) and Lauren (Michael O’Malley); four grandchildren; two great grandchildren; brother Robert and his wife Milly (Blanchard) Blakeley; the extended Blakeley/Blanchard families; and dear friends across the country and globe.
Donations in Ms. Fowler’s memory may be made to Claremont Heritage Inc., PO Box 742, Claremont CA, 91711, www.claremontheritage.org, or to the Claremont cause of your choice.
At Barbara’s request, no service is planned.