Char and Chuck Fowler
2020 MARTHA JOSEPH PRIZE
Growing up in small-town Indiana, Charlotte “Char” and Charles “Chuck” Fowler didn’t have a lot of opportunities to experience the arts. Their innate gifts for music, however, gave each a foundation for a lifelong appreciation of the arts. Char started playing flute in fourth grade, then added accordion and piano to her repertoire.
“I always looked forward to the two days of the week when the music or art teacher would come in,” she remembers fondly. “You hated to be sick on those days because you just didn’t want to miss school.”
Chuck grew up in a family of great singers, so he followed suit, enjoying any chances to perform at home and in different choirs. “I spent a lot of hours on a tractor in the field, so I would sing there, too,” he says. “I would sing whatever we were practicing in church or high school or whatever rock songs were on the radio.”
Then another art came into play: dancing. “Chuck was a pretty good dancer, and I guess I was, too!” Char says with a laugh. “We had a great time at high school sock hops.” The two got married while in college, and then moved around to several cities in Indiana and Illinois, including Chicago. Char worked in education as a 4th grade teacher and librarian. Having worked at a General Motors foundry for a couple of years, Chuck took an opportunity to join Martin Marietta Industrial Sand. In 1986, he partnered with William Conway to launch Fairmount Minerals in Chardon. The Fowlers moved to Cleveland and soon realized they loved being surrounded by all of the arts institutions available in Northeast Ohio
“We both discovered pretty quickly that Cleveland had so much to offer in the arts for a city of its size,” Char recalls. “We were both from small towns and were just amazed at having so many arts organizations.”
Although their three daughters Chann, Holley and Angie were good athletes, Chuck and Char made sure to expose them to the arts, starting with piano and dance lessons. “We’ve always thought the arts were important to enrich one’s life and can serve as an outlet and therapy at times, especially now with the pandemic, when we all thirst for the performing arts,” Char says.
While Chuck pursued an Executive MBA at Case Western Reserve University, and Char had time to join take flute and piano refresher lessons at the Cleveland Music School Settlement (now The Music Settlement). Impressed by the number of lives it touched and enriched, she joined the board in 1990. Char went on to join the boards of the Near West Theatre, the Cleveland Play House and MOCA, and she tutored at the Cleveland School of the Arts for a while. Currently, she is board member of the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland International Film Festival.
“We were just bowled over by the number of theaters in Cleveland,” she says. “So we would try to go to as much theater as we could, and there was always something going on, from the Playhouse Square complex to all of the community theaters.”
Most recently, the couple decided they wanted to help the BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival become established in Cleveland. Char became one of the founding members, and Chuck fully supported her and the festival. They also served as sponsors, and both were greatly pleased with the success of the first event in July 2019.
“The Fowlers early support was absolutely pivotal,” says Dale Heinen, co-founder and co-director of the festival. “It gave our start-up organization the credibility we needed. “Their commitment continues, and Char is a very active board member, always making contacts for us, always full of ideas.”
Indeed, Cleveland has given the Fowlers ample opportunities to participate and contribute, which is just part of their nature. “Growing up, my dad and mother were both involved in organizations around the area, so being involved in what was going on in our community was just a natural thing to do,” Chuck explains.
In 2001, in keeping with their strong sense of community commitment, the couple established the Char and Chuck Fowler Family Foundation. The first grant was made to help fight against melanoma in honor of their daughter, Angie, who died at 14. The couple later helped create the Angie Fowler Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Institute at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.
The Fowlers have supported numerous arts and nonprofit organizations throughout Northeast Ohio. In 2016, in recognition of their exceptional contributions, the Fowler family received CWRU’s President’s Award for Visionary Achievement.