Camrose Booster co-founder dies at 93

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Camrose Booster co-founder dies at 93

Postby jon » Sun Oct 20, 2013 9:35 am

Life & Times: Newspaper co-founder a lifelong lover of learning, community and equal opportunity
Berdie Fowler (1920 — 2013)
By Bill Mah, Edmonton Journal
October 20, 2013 8:06 AM

EDMONTON - When B.H. (Berdie) Fowler co-founded a small-town newspaper with her husband, it was his dream, but it became her lifelong passion.

The co-founder and editor of the Camrose Booster filed her last weekly column just a few weeks before she died on Sept. 24 at age 93.

Not content to simply report the news, Fowler also made things happen by championing not-for-profit causes, leading the local business community and serving on city council — breaking gender barriers along the way.

Born on July 1, 1920, Berdie was the first of three girls born to grain farmers Lester and Lilian Anderson. She was named Bertha Helen, but much preferred the nickname she received at school.

On the family farm near Bittern Lake, education was a priority even in those days when finishing high school was uncommon especially for girls.

Berdie cultivated her love of literacy and learning all her life and passed it on to her children.

“She was very encouraging of lifelong learning, not just secondary or post-secondary education,” said Beth Balshaw, Fowler’s daughter.

She loved to play Scrabble and, in her 90s, she was using a computer to keep in touch with her 10 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

After graduating from the local one-room school, Berdie and her sister Edna moved to Camrose to finish high school. She went on to complete a business program at Camrose Lutheran College. That’s where Berdie met Bill Fowler, who became her husband of 51 years.

After Bill returned from the Second World War, he and Berdie co-founded the Camrose Booster in 1952.

“He visualized himself as a writer and when he had an opportunity to switch occupations … someone suggested to my dad that maybe there would be a place for a free-circulation community paper in Camrose,” said Blain Fowler, Berdie and Bill’s son and Booster publisher.

Berdie supported her husband in the endeavour and they worked side by side.

“She was a good wife and actually had some artistic ability so she said ‘OK, if that’s what Bill wants to do, that’s what we’re going to do.’ ”

Berdie handled the paper’s art, composition and accounting duties. “She was much behind the scenes; he was the public face of the publication,” Blain said.

Berdie also began writing. Her weekly Pen Points column won industry awards, including second place at the annual International Free Papers Association competition in 2012. She also won the association’s Joseph M. Sklenar Editorial Award of Excellence.

From the beginning, she balanced her daily family obligations with the demands of putting out a weekly newspaper.

“(The Booster) started out in the basement of our house,” remembered daughter Beth Balshaw. “All of us will talk about the lullaby of the presses as we went to sleep.”

Berdie’s volunteer work often centred around giving women fair opportunities in business and the workplace. She blazed trails for women while she was at it.

In the 1960s, she helped create the Camrose Children’s Centre, the first child care facility in rural Alberta, and assisted in the opening of a school for children with mental and physical disabilities.

She joined the board of the Camrose Chamber of Commerce in the late ’60s and became its president in 1972.

Berdie was also the first woman appointed to the board of the Alberta Opportunity Company, a provincial Crown corporation that supported small business.

“It was an extension of her own belief of being of service, but also Dad encouraged her to do stuff that lots of women didn’t do,” said eldest daughter Bonnie Hutchinson.

When Blain bought the Booster from his parents, he appointed Berdie editor. Bill retired from the paper in 1975, but Berdie kept on working.

“In all the time we were working together, we never had a disagreement about anything. She had a measured approach to everything,” said Blain.

Bonnie agreed that Berdie stood up for what was right, but did so calmly and thoughtfully.

“I have maybe no memories of my mother raising her voice, but I have lots of memories of understanding very clearly that she was displeased,” Bonnie said.

In Berdie’s later years, she worked on the newspaper mostly from her seniors’ lodge, until she suffered a series of strokes a few weeks before her death.

“Her computer was slaved to her computer in the office so she could access all 18 work stations in the office,” Blain said.

“Coming down to the office was a major event for her because of her mobility issues, but she did. She still looked after the hiring until six months ago.

“On the Saturday that she had her first stroke she phoned me up about 10 o’clock in the morning and said, ‘I’ve finished my column for the week, but I’m suffering a little confusion here. Could you read that over and make sure it makes sense and put a title on it for me?’ So she was working absolutely right to the end,” Blain said.

Berdie was recognized for her contributions with numerous awards such as induction into the Alberta Order of Excellence in 2006, an honorary lifetime membership in the Camrose Chamber of Commerce and a 2008 honorary doctorate of laws from the University of Alberta Augustana Campus.
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