Tag Archives: Vanderbilt

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.

The Culpeper’s bridge club provides social connections, mental fitness for residents


Editor’s note: In celebration of Older Americans Month, LifeSpire of Virginia is featuring one or two residents a week from its four continuing care retirement communities who most embody the characteristics of a “trailblazer” in wellness, community and hospitality.

By Ann Lovell

CULPEPER, Virginia—Jean Isaacson, 72, was disappointed there wasn’t a bridge club at The Culpeper, the LifeSpire of Virginia continuing care retirement community where she’s lived since 2013. An accountant who had started her own business in 1980, Isaacson learned to play bridge as a teen and taught the game when she lived in Chicago from 1972-1975.

Then she met Lila Bunt, 89, another avid bridge player who has lived at The Culpeper since 2011.

“Lila and I were walking from ‘the big house’ (the building that houses the dining room and community center) to our cottages,” Isaacson recalls. “I told her how I wished we had a bridge club. ‘Let’s start one!’ Lila said. So we did.”

Bunt laughs. “Two heads plus a need equals a bridge club,” she says.

Jean Isaacson (left) and Lila Bunt (right) discuss how bridge club began at The Culpeper, the LifeSpire of Virginia continuing care retirement community where they live.

The two women started the club with one table in 2013. Then, they asked Pat Ballard, The Culpeper’s Director of Resident Services, to add it to the The Culpeper’s activities’ calendar each month. Soon Bunt and Isaacson were offering weekly classes to those interested in learning the game. Eight players joined a cruise the group took in early 2015, and today the group has grown to 14.

“We need two more players to have four tables,” Isaacson says.

Isaacson and Bunt are two of LifeSpire’s featured trailblazers during Older Americans Month in May. The U.S. Administration for Community Living sets aside May each year to recognize the contributions of older Americans. The 2016 theme is “Blaze a Trail.” Ballard recommended the two women for their initiative in starting the bridge club.

“LifeSpire trailblazers model wellness, community, and hospitality,” agrees Jonathan Cook, LifeSpire President and CEO. “By starting the bridge club, Mrs. Isaacson and Mrs. Bunt showed the kind of community spirit we appreciate from all our residents.”


Bridge evolved from the British card game whist and dates back to the 1700s. In 1925 railroad heir Harold Stirling Vanderbilt created the modern version of contract bridge, the version The Culpeper club plays. According to David Owen of The New Yorker, Vanderbilt “had been annoyed by what he felt were deficiencies in the previous version, auction bridge.” Contract bridge caught on quickly, especially as the Great Depression set in, and by the 1940s, 44 percent of American families played the game.

Today, an estimated 25 million Americans enjoy bridge, including such notables as Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, who often play as a team. The majority of bridge players are over age 50, says Jon Saraceno in an article for AARP.

“Bridge’s intricacies make it particularly appealing for those who want to sharpen acuity with mental gymnastics,” Saraceno writes. “A study in 2000 at the University of California Berkeley, found strong evidence that an area in the brain used in playing bridge stimulates the immune system. Researchers suggest that is because players must use memory, visualization and sequencing.”

Additional research by Dr. Claudia Kawas of the University of California Irvine, seems to indicate bridge, with its added social element, may have a slight edge over other mental games in staving off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

“We think, for example, that it’s very important to use your brain, to keep challenging your mind, but all mental activities may not be equal,” Kawas says. “We’re seeing some evidence that a social component may be crucial.”


Isaacson and Bunt carve out lots of time each week for bridge. The two women teach bridge on Wednesdays, developing lessons based on the book, “The Fun Way to Advanced Bridge” by Harry Lampert.

“Many of those who come last played in college,” Bunt says. “It’s a great way to welcome new residents to the community.”

The group plays together at The Culpeper on Fridays. Isaacson plays with a group at her home on Saturdays, and Bunt and her husband, John, play Tuesday evenings at the local country club with people from the greater Culpeper community.

When they aren’t playing bridge, the two women are also involved in other activities in their community. Bunt and her husband regularly work in the food pantry at their local church, St. Stephens Episcopal in downtown Culpeper. Isaacson reads to an older friend, plays rummy with older residents, and enjoys caring for her granddaughter one day a week.

Still, bridge has provided a strong bond between the two women and allowed them to forge friendships with other residents as well.

“It’s very rewarding,” Bunt says. “It keeps us busy and provides a lot of good laughs.”

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.