Tag Archives: FMB

Fowlers demonstrate a century of faithfulness


By Ann Lovell

Dr. Franklin and Mrs. Dorcas Fowler pose with an early proof of his autobiography in April 2017. Dr. Fowler celebrated his 100th birthday March 28, 2017. Mrs. Fowler passed away June 26, 2017.

RICHMOND, Virginia—Franklin and Dorcas Fowler had been married 70 years when Dorcas died peacefully June 26, 2017, in her home at Lakewood, a LifeSpire of Virginia community in Richmond’s West End. She was 96. Just before Franklin’s 100th birthday in March, the couple was asked how long they’d been married. They exchanged a puzzled glance and then laughed.

“We don’t remember!” Dorcas said. “Forever.”

In that same conversation, Franklin reached for his Bible, opened the front cover, and pulled out a photo of Dorcas as a young woman. He didn’t say much, but his message was clear. His God and his wife are his two most important relationships.

The Fowlers epitomize lives of faithfulness. From childhood, both sought to share God’s love through medicine. Franklin grew up as the child of missionary parents in Argentina, and committed his life to Christ at age 10. After college at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tennessee, he went on to Vanderbilt Medical School in Nashville, where, thanks to the start of World War II, he and his class earned their medical degrees a few months earlier than planned. Franklin served in combat in France, Luxembourg, and Germany as a doctor with the 110th Evacuation Hospital, semi-mobile. He returned from the war and married Dorcas, a registered nurse, on Aug. 25, 1946.

Dorcas was born in Oklahoma City and received a Bachelor of Arts degree from William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri; a nursing degree from St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri; and a Master of Arts degree from The Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia.

In 1947, the couple was appointed to Paraguay as medical missionaries with the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board). Their task was to build a hospital. Two years later, after surveying the needs, deciding on a location, and purchasing property, Dr. Fowler sent a cable to the FMB: “HOW DO YOU BUILD A HOSPITAL?” He soon received a simple reply from Dr. Everett Gill, FMB’s area secretary for the Americas: “WE ARE PRAYING FOR YOU.”

Looking back on his 100 years, Dr. Fowler credits the hospital in Paraguay as one of his greatest accomplishments. He has reason to be proud. Today, the Baptist Medical Center in Asunción treats about 16,000 patients a month. Under Paraguayan leadership, the hospital has a reputation for excellent medical care and fair business dealings. In 1995, the Baptist Medical Center expanded to include a heart institute, and the next year, doctors there performed Paraguay’s first successful heart transplant.

The Fowlers left Paraguay in 1956 to accept an assignment in Mexico, and in 1960, the family moved to Richmond where Dr. Fowler served as the FMB’s first medical consultant on the home office staff and Dorcas worked as director of the nursing school at Johnston-Willis Hospital until it closed. During his tenure in FMB’s home office, Dr. Fowler focused on missionary health and started the Baptist Medical/Dental Fellowship, which remains active today.

The Fowlers moved to Lakewood in 1987, where they quickly became active in the community. They started a worship service for healthcare residents, and Dr. Fowler continued to write and paint, chronicling his life in “From There to Here: The Story of a Missionary Child.” The missionary life is mobile, and ironically, the Fowlers have lived in retirement at Lakewood for 30 years — longer than anywhere else in their storied and very active lives.

“I can’t imagine Lakewood without the Fowlers,” said Eileen Kwak, the community’s director of resident services. “They are an icon here.”

The Fowlers represent a generation of people who understand the meaning of words like faithfulness, loyalty, commitment, and community — values on which LifeSpire communities are built and continue to thrive. Even at the end of her life, Dorcas faithfully cared for Franklin, Kwak said. As Dorcas’ life ebbed away, Franklin sat quietly, holding her hand.

Franklin and Dorcas also believed they could make a difference in the world for the cause of Christ, and they were willing to endure any hardship to do so. Franklin’s autobiography tells of their first trip to Paraguay by boat when Dorcas was eight months pregnant with their oldest child.

“This proved to be a bad time for Dorcas to travel,” Franklin wrote in “From There to Here.” “Eight months pregnant, the rolling of the ship kept her in her bunk most of the way. I’m afraid this was not a pleasant Caribbean and South American cruise for her.”

A few weeks later, she delivered their oldest son in a clinic in Asunción, Paraguay — without anesthesia.

“I asked Dr. Aguire later why he did not use anesthesia,” Franklin wrote. “He said that if he lost a Paraguayan patient, it would be considered the will of God, but if he lost an American patient or the baby, his reputation would be ruined, thus he took no risks. Dorcas wished he had taken a little more risk!”

In spite of the difficulties, the Fowlers laid the foundation for international missions — medical and otherwise — for generations to follow. Southern Baptist missions efforts today rest on the shoulders of men and women like Franklin and Dorcas Fowler. More importantly, in a world shaken by brokenness, turmoil, and violence, their lives are steadfast examples of genuine love and faithfulness.

In honor of Dr. Fowler’s 100th birthday and the couple’s strong legacy of faith, LifeSpire of Virginia is pleased to publish his autobiography, “From There to Here: The Story of a Missionary Child,” including the history of Southern Baptist medical missions, which he wrote in 1975, and a collection of poems and paintings, which he created during his years at Lakewood.

Proceeds from the sale of the book benefit LifeSpire’s VBH Foundation, which raises funds to help LifeSpire’s life care residents who outlive their financial resources remain in their homes. The book is available for $14.99 on Amazon and from the VBH Foundation. Contact Ann Lovell for more information. 


Ann Lovell is Corporate Director of Communications for LifeSpire of Virginia, formerly Virginia Baptist Homes. For more information, email alovell@lifespireliving.org or call (804) 521-9192.

LifeSpire of Virginia operates four continuing care retirement communities in Virginia: The Chesapeake in Newport News, The Culpeper in Culpeper, The Glebe in Daleville and Lakewood in Richmond.

Faith matters


By Ann Lovell

Helen Wood 201606 (1 of 1)
Helen Wood enjoys the fresh air and exercise at Lakewood, a LifeSpire of Virginia community in Richmond’s West End.

RICHMOND, Virginia—Helen Wood wears a Fitbit. She doesn’t always reach 10,000 steps a day, she says, but she tries to go over 5,000. Wood, a resident of Lakewood in Richmond’s West End, recently attended her 60th college reunion at the University of Richmond. She is a member of Virginia Baptist Women in Ministry and also serves on numerous boards, including  the Virginia Baptist Historical Society.

“The key to successful attitudes about aging is to find hobbies and interests beyond your work,” Wood says. “I have many outside interests, but all are within my faith sphere.”

Faith matters to Wood, and for many senior adults like her, the interplay of faith, community and wellness — LifeSpire’s core values — often yields positive results. In fact, a 2010 study on spirituality and aging concludes that faith and religious participation are as important as diet, exercise and social connectedness to successful aging, leading not only to longevity but also to higher satisfaction and a better quality of life.

Tom Crittenden, a resident of The Chesapeake in Newport News, agrees.

“My faith is nourished through my church activities and service on (The Chesapeake’s) worship and spiritual life committee,” Crittenden says. “We are one big family here. … By staying busy in church, overall, I have a better life.”


But faith is nothing new to Crittenden and Wood. Both say that faith has been an important part of their lives since they were children.

Crittenden grew up Methodist. His mother died a day after Crittenden was born, and his uncle and aunt, whom he describes as “good Christian folks,” adopted him.

“Church was a part of life,” Crittenden says. “My mother taught Sunday school, and I was baptized in the Methodist church.”

Likewise, Wood’s faith has been vital to her throughout her life. “I grew up in faith,” Wood says. “I had Christian parents and grandparents. As a pre-teen, I felt that there was something special I should be doing, and God opened doors for me.”

After college, seminary and marriage, Wood and her husband, Rudy who died in 2008, served 15 years in Europe as international missionaries through the then-Foreign Mission Board (FMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (now IMB). Later Wood served on staff at the FMB mobilizing college students for a variety of international mission opportunities. She also worked with the Virginia Woman’s Missionary Union.

“My faith hasn’t changed over the years,” Wood explains. “It’s who I am. I try to live my life not out of obligation but out of gratitude.”

Julie Walton, who along with Louise Mason serves as chaplain at Lakewood, agrees that faith is life-long. “Faith is important to us for all of our lives,” Walton says. “Faith doesn’t change. It gives meaning and hope in difficult circumstances.”

“Faith takes over when there are no more answers,” says Gerald Carter, chaplain at The Glebe in Daleville. “It’s a belief that the triune God is active in our lives every day.”

“Faith equips us to deal with life’s difficulties such as loss, fear and illness,” says Nancy Hayes, chaplain at The Chesapeake. “Some of the things happening to (our residents) are a slippery slope. Walking through these issues together helps us support, comfort, and encourage one another.”


From its beginnings, LifeSpire of Virginia (formerly Virginia Baptist Homes) has been an organization rooted in the Christian faith and centered in Jesus Christ. “Love God and love people,” Jesus told his disciples. “These are the greatest commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40, paraphrased). LifeSpire seeks to promote an organizational culture where God’s love is lived-out among residents, families and staff.

This faith-based distinction is a difference you can feel, says Mason. “The atmosphere here is genuine. People live it,” Mason says. “Nobody here needs to be reminded, and the staff embodies it as much as the residents.”

Carter agrees, “God lives in this place in a special way.”

For Hayes, the faith-based distinction also means welcoming those from a variety of different backgrounds. “We work hard to accept people who have different faith perspectives,” Hayes says. “We focus on what binds us together, rather than what separates us.”

Hayes, who encourages residents to stay active in their local churches, also offers an ecumenical worship service Sunday afternoons. Crittenden, for example, attends his Methodist church Sunday mornings, where he has served as a trustee and is active in the Methodist men’s group. Then, on Sunday afternoons, he helps set up the sound system for the 3 p.m. ecumenical service at The Chesapeake.

“Some of our residents can’t get out Sundays, so they meet with us at 3 p.m.,” Crittenden explains. “We usually have between 65 and 100 people for  Sunday afternoon worship.”


While participation in faith-based activities helps provide active seniors with a sense of purpose and well-being, faith is also important to seniors suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, Mason explains. She recalls an instance when she worked on a psychiatric ward early in her career.

“One of the patients had written his own gospel hymns,” Mason says. “He had difficulty communicating, but he sat down at a piano in a commons area and began to play and sing those old hymns. People came out of their rooms to listen. It was a holy moment.”

While dementia and Alzheimer’s disease rob a person of short-term memory, a deeply rooted faith can continue to thrive even as memories fade, Mason says.

“Memory care residents who may not know what day it is can recall a particular church experience from their childhood,” Mason says.

Walton agrees, “Faith taps into a really deep part of you. It transcends day-to-day living.”

Faith also removes anxiety about the future, says Wood, who believes in an afterlife.

“I couldn’t begin to list all the miracles in my life, but they are proof to me that God cares about us individually,” Wood says.

“Today is a gift, and there’s no promise for tomorrow,” she continues. “I’m in God’s hands, and I feel very confident about that.”


Ann Lovell is corporate director of communications at LifeSpire of Virginia, formerly Virginia Baptist Homes. She can be reached at (804) 521-9192 or by email at alovell@lifespireliving.org.