Philanthropy's in the family

The Lehigh Valley community has benefited greatly from some very philanthropic families in business over the centuries. Railroad magnate Asa Packer's generosity led to the founding of Lehigh University in Bethlehem and St. Luke's Hospital in Fountain Hill.

In 1865, Packer gave $500,000 and 60 acres – later increased to 115 acres – of land in South Bethlehem to establish a university "for the intellectual and moral improvement of the young men of the region." Lehigh was chartered in 1866 and its main building, Packer Hall, completed in 1869. Established as agame preserve in 1906 with only bison, elk and deer, the Lehigh Valley Zoo has since added animals from Asia and Africa, such as ostriches. Harry C. Trexler was the philanthropist behind the preserve; he contributed to the area in other ways, too. According to William Bacon Stevens, the first president of the university's board of trustees, Packer's founding gift was the largest single endowment for a literary institution at the time. Some had wanted Lehigh to be a technical school, but Packer insisted it provide a well-rounded education, combining liberal arts and science with technical skills to increase the prosperity of the region.

St. Luke's Hospital had been established on the South Side of Bethlehem in the 1870s and had operated for three years before its board decided to relocate to a larger campus. The board asked Packer, the area's leading philanthropist, to donate land he owned on South Mountain, adjacent to Lehigh. He replied his land was not suitable for a hospital, but he would donate money to buy elsewhere.

Packer suggested property in Fountain Hill, which the board bought for $25,000, $10,000 of which had been donated by Packer and his sons. The hospital moved in 1876. Packer also willed a great deal to Lehigh and St. Luke's before his death in 1879.

General Harry C. Trexler, founder of PPL, also contributed a great deal to the growth and quality of life in the City of Allentown and the surrounding Lehigh County. During his lifetime, Trexler contributed money to public fundraising campaigns for hospitals, colleges, charity and welfare organizations, often serving as chairman of the campaigns. Beginning in 1914 and continuing every year until his death, Trexler and his wife, Mary, sponsored and attended Romper Day, a children's festival in Allentown.

Trexler died from an auto accident in 1933, leaving a residuary estate of about $10 million. His will set up a trust, the Harry C. Trexler Trust, the income of which was to benefit his wife during her lifetime and the citizens of Lehigh County after her death. Mary Trexler died in 1934.

The present value of the trust fund's assets is more than $110 million. Over the 71 years of its existence, the trust has distributed more than $95 million to 350 different Lehigh County non-profit organizations and an additional $30.6 million to the city of Allentown for improvements, extension and maintenance of its parks.

The general was a moving force in creating the city's park system, which consists of more than 2,000 acres. In North Whitehall and Lowhill townships, he established the Trexler-Lehigh County Game Preserve, recently renamed Lehigh Valley Zoo.

The community also has felt the benefits of another philanthropic family, Linny and Beall Fowler of Bethlehem.

Linny, whose father Harmon, served as chairman of the board and was the fourth CEO of United Parcel Service, began working with underprivileged children in 1967 through Head Start. She was a founder of the Lehigh Valley Coalition for Kids and has been active with Camelot for Children, Turning Point, Valley Youth House, the Hispanic American Organization and the United Way.

She also established the Good Kid Camperships program, giving low-income elementary students the opportunity to attend summer camp.

The Fowlers have been benefactors of ArtsQuest and The Banana Factory in Bethlehem, home of the Fowler Arts and Education Center.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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