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Caryl Fowler, activist, historian, dies at 85
Caryl Mae Davis Fowler, a longtime resident of Ceres who enjoyed studying and writing about its history, died Thursday morning following an 18-month battle with cancer. She was 85.

Mrs. Fowler wrote for the Modesto Bee as the Ceres correspondent in the 1960s and 1970s and co-authored "Town of Ceres: A Historical Stroll" in 1985 with Ruth Jorgensen. She was one of the moving forces to prompt the city of Ceres to purchase and renovate the Daniel Whitmore Home.

Phil Reynders, curator of the newly established Ceres Historical Museum, first met Fowler in the late 1950s or early 1960s. At the time Caryl was a real estate agent and wanted Reynders, a professional sign painter, to produce some signs. It was the start of a long friendship wrapped around their love of history.

"Over the years we've had a real bond, you might say," said Reynders.

"She would challenge us to working hard at something because she was a farm gal. When we'd be working on the Whitmore Home, such as painting, we'd get the urge to stop and she'd say, "No, this job has to get done.' We'd always marvel at her, for her age, the way she worked. There was no stopping her. Before this cancer took hold of her she was just vibrant and a neat person to know. She was a worker, boy I'll tell you."

In the 1980s, Mrs. Fowler worked with Ruth Jorgesen and her late husband Homer Jorgensen in getting the city to preserve Ceres' first residence. She also enjoyed organizing the ice cream socials at the mansion.

"Caryl wanted to be involved in any group or community activity ... in the Ceres area, always full of impulsive energy," said Mildred Lucas, a fellow historian of Ceres.

The cancer had taken its toll but a wheelchair-bound Mrs. Fowler mustered the strength to attend the Feb. 9 meeting of the Ceres Historical Society. She was happy to hear the Society had plans to restore her late husband's old surrey.

Over the years numerous people mistakenly believed that Mrs. Fowler was the namesake of Carroll Fowler Elementary School. She kept the school's number handy by her phone after continuing to receive calls from parents intended for the school. The school was, however, named for her father-in-law, the late Carroll Fowler who was the father of Caryl's husband, Richard "Hardy" Fowler. Hardy died Nov. 2, 2004. Carroll Fowler came to Ceres in 1901 to pursue farming. At the time of his birth, Hardy's parents owned the land on which Smyrna Park and Carroll Fowler Elementary School exists today.

Despite her illness, Mrs. Fowler made an appearance on Nov. 13 at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of Carroll Fowler School.

Mrs. Fowler's mother-in-law, Aurelia Whitmore Fowler, was the daughter of Richard K. Whitmore, who followed his brother, Ceres founder Daniel Whitmore, to California in 1856. Richard Whitmore settled in Ceres in 1869 and helped to survey the town site.

Caryl Fowler was born Jan. 11, 1923 in rual Chippewa Falls, Wisc., to Clinton and Lila Davis, the youngest of four children. She recalled walking a mile and a half to school to a one-room schoolhouse until the eighth grade, many times in snow drifts. After graduating from Chippewa Falls High School in 1940, Caryl learned office skills through the National Youth Association. She and a friend struck out on a train trip to Seattle after deciding not to visit San Diego by the flip of a coin. She worked office jobs as well as for Boeing Aircraft.

Hardy and Caryl met at the Bridal Trails Stables in Kirkland, Wash., while he taught at Washington State College. They were married on Dec. 4, 1947 in Seattle. He left the university after 12 years to take over the 40-acre family peach farm on Fowler Road in 1950.

Mrs. Fowler was first a member of Ceres United Methodist Church where she taught Sunday School, before becoming a charter member of the Harvest Presbyterian Church. Caryl served as an elder, clerk of session and deacon at Harvest. She also belonged to the Tuolumne River Lodge for over five decades. Mrs. Fowler was involved in the Ceres Historical Society as a member. Caryl was also very active as a charter member of the Soroptimist International of Ceres for many years. She also loved playing bridge.

Caryl also enjoyed membership in the Persephone Guild, a Ceres women's organization, and served as its president. For 20 years she chaired the annual Strawberry Breakfast.

In 1997 Mrs. Fowler was bestowed with the honor of Citizen of Year.

She enjoyed traveling to places like Alaska and Mexico and camping at Pinecrest, Clark Fork and Markleeville.

She leaves behind two children, Robert Davis Fowler of San Rafael and Dr. Mary Carroll Fowler of Boise, Idaho; her brother, Clark Davis of Jim Walls, Wisc.; her sister, Virginia Warner of Sun Prairie, Wisc.; and two grandchildren, Jonah Gilmore and Amaris Gilmore, both of Boise, Idaho. She was preceded in death by husband Hardy Fowler, her parents and brother Dean Davis.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Harvest Presbyterian Churchm 1813 Moffet Road, Ceres.

Remembrances may be sent to Soroptimist International of Ceres, P.O. Box 395, Ceres CA 95307; or to Harvest Presbyterian Church; or Ceres Historical Society, P.O. Box 2585, Ceres, CA 95307; or to Community Hospice, 4368 Spyres Way, Modesto CA 95356.