What began as a four-year pen-pal correspondence between a college president and a native son of Allegany County who hadn't seen his home in nearly 60 years has resulted in the largest single cash donation in the history of Frostburg State University.
FSU recently received a gift of $727,218 from the estate of Harold R. Rowe, a former college professor who lived his final years in Hawaii. Rowe claimed he felt "genetically" linked to Frostburg State, a university he never attended. Rowe's grandfather, however, helped pass legislation to found Normal School No. 2, and his father was one of the scores of coal miners who helped to fund the land on which it was built.
"In some ways, the wheel has come full circle. Through this generous donation, yet another member of the Rowe family has made an invaluable investment in the future of this institution," said FSU's President and Rowe's pen-pal, Dr. Catherine R. Gira.
The Harold R. Rowe International Student Fund was born from a regular correspondence between Rowe and Gira. Over the approximately four years that the two traded letters, Gira gradually learned his history and his dedication to helping increase understanding among people of different nations. Little did she imagine, however, that his final bequest would increase the value by nearly 100-fold of a small fund he started in recent years to help international students at FSU.
"International students bring to the University a breadth of backgrounds and traditions that enrich the learning experience of all with whom they come in contact. Harold Rowe understood deeply the importance of cross-cultural interactions," Gira said.
"Mr. Rowe has entrusted the FSU Foundation with a gift that is reflective of his life-time efforts. The Harold R. Rowe International Student Fund will immediately impact the international diversity of our campus," said Jack B. Aylor, director of the FSU Foundation Inc.
"This will go a long, long way in helping the Foundation, and the designation for international students opens up a whole new area with that much money able to be used for scholarships," said C. Joseph Cunningham, president of the FSU Foundation Inc.
Rowe was born in 1916 in Eckhart, just outside of Frostburg. He was the grandson of Matthew H. Rowe, one of the handful of Maryland legislators who battled to establish a "normal school" in Frostburg to train teachers for Western Maryland. Rowe's father, Thomas, was among the scores of miners who scraped together nickels and dimes to buy the land on which the school was built. He is listed on the roster as having donated 50 cents, a considerable percentage of a miner's earnings in those days.
Harold Rowe was a bright student, but because he graduated from high school in the midst of the Depression when money and scholarships were scarce, he went to work instead for three years at Celanese's Amcelle plant as a chemist's assistant in the dangerous Acetone Recovery Department.
Still wanting to continue his education, he found Mills School in New York, the only program designed to train men for the traditionally women's profession of nursing. During World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy Medical Corps as a conscientious objector noncombatant, in accordance with his mother's pacifist Brethren influence. Following the war, he was finally able to get a college degree through the GI Bill from the University of Pennsylvania. He earned a bachelor's degree in the sciences and a master's degree in genetics, all while teaching nursing at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. His career took him to a number of other colleges, ending up finally at the University of Hawaii.
Mr. Rowe's horror over the effects of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki - as well as the training he received from his forward-thinking father that all men were created equal -- prompted him to dedicate his life to increasing understanding between peoples. Over the years he housed numerous international students studying in the United States and taught English to immigrants and visiting students.
Rowe learned about the FSU of today through news clippings sent by Kathleen Hamilton of Cumberland, a family friend. One news story prompted him to write Gira. "I think he thought he saw a kindred spirit," she said. From there, a friendship was born.
He learned about FSU's international programs in the course of their correspondence. When Gira mentioned that FSU is able to send more students overseas than it receives because of funding, Rowe sent $2,000 to establish a modest scholarship fund in the hopes that he could help.
Over the years he and his foster brother Hessel, with whom he resided, added to the Harold R. Rowe International Student Fund, bringing the total to about $8,000. He also expressed the wish that, if there might be anything left following his and his brother's deaths, he might be able to help out a little more.
"My fervent hope is that there will be at least a remainder of my Trust of which I and Hessel are Trustees to further my father's belief that interactions between the cultures can enhance the attractiveness of all cultures involved," Rowe wrote to Gira in 1996.
"We expected maybe another $8,000, or even as much as $20,000. Nothing led us to believe that there would ever be that much money," Gira said. Nothing, that is, until an attorney's letter this summer informed FSU that the University's Foundation would receive more than $700,000, the bulk of his estate, all from a man who hadn't seen his hometown since the 1940s.
Until his death in 1998, Gira and Rowe remained pen-pals. "I felt very close to him," Gira said. She would occasionally send him FSU mementos, and Rowe sent back snippets of his varied life story, along with chocolate-covered macadamia nuts at Christmas.
The money earmarked for the International Student Fund is designed to assist international students studying at FSU to pay tuition and living expenses, as well as other expenses that may occur.
"Our immediate task is getting an awards committee to complete the details for application and award. I expect to see the first Rowe International scholars by next fall," Aylor said.
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