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Celebration on the Southside

Fowler Family Southside Center Turns 10

Myra Saturen, photos by Randy Monceaux,

The automatic doors at the Northampton Community College Fowler Family Southside Center kept opening and closing as people of all ages entered and 8-year old Jonathan gives Sam Spartan a high fiveexited on September 18.  Mothers with strollers, young men and women with grandparents, flowed through.

The busy afternoon represented a normal day at the center, which has served tens of thousands of people since the College purchased this six-story former Bethlehem Steel office building in 2005.  But it was also a special day as the College celebrated Fowler's tenth anniversary with an open house.  Hands-on activities and demonstrations on nearly every floor showed why Fowler is such a lively, multi-purpose hub of the community.  Art, music, food and other delights also enlivened the afternoon.

Tobor the Great greeted guests in the first floor lobby. Who or what is Tobor?  The 12-foot-tall robotic arm, which can lift and grasp items upwards and sideways, is a creation of 14 enterprising users of the Fab Lab.  The lab is where individuals, entrepreneurs and company employees design and create their own inventions, using computers and a 3-D printer.  Among the many popular labs within the Fab Lab is the guitar lab, where beautiful mother-of-pearl-inlaid guitars were on display. 

At the Emergency Medical Technician EMT) demonstration, visitors got to try the equipment, under the instruction of EMT teaching staff.  One guest placed a bag mask firmly over a mannequin's face and pumped air into the mouth, watching the "lungs" expand with air.  

Succulent aromas floated from the demonstration kitchen, where Mary Grube, an instructor of non-credit cooking classes, whipped up canapes of goat cheese, fig preserve, and an apple slice on rounds of French bread.  Members of the community enjoy a variety culinary demonstrations and classes throughout the year.

Volunteers in the Cops 'n Kids Reading Room enthusiastically hosted visitors to the brightly-painted yellow room, filled with children's books, art supplies, and stuffed animals.  Children can choose and take home up to five free books each week. The books are theirs to keep.  The room is open on Wednesdays from 11:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.  with special events such as author readings scheduled on Saturday mornings.  A celebration of Reading Day, every April, attracts between 1,500 and 2,000 participants.  Carts of books for adults stand outside the room. 

Visitors to the dental clinic, which is run in cooperation with St. Luke's Health Network, got to see the clinic operating in full swing, as students worked on Dental hygiene student cleans a patient's teethmany patients' teeth.  The 20-chair facility offers cleanings, fluoride treatments, x-rays, and screenings by a dentist, all at low cost.

On the fifth floor, with spectacular views of Southside Bethlehem, visitors sampled kick-boxing and ballroom dancing with the guidance of instructors who teach these non-credit, community classes.  Loretta Hein, a dance teacher, talked about the Dancing for Special Occasions class, for people planning a cruise vacation, or taking an important part in a wedding-the parents of the bride and groom, for instance.

Also on the fifth floor, guitar teacher Richard Metzger played a medley of jazz standards such as "Take the A Train," embellished with his improvisations.  Meanwhile, his third-level students rehearsed in another room for a performance they would give that evening.

Guests at the art studio watched a fused glass plate being created from a mosaic of pieces.

In the casino training area, an instructor demonstrated how a Blackjack dealer runs a game.  His swift hands demonstrated the skill students can attain.  At the back of the room, visitors enjoyed non-alcoholic mocktails, served by hospitality program students. 

The open house also included explanations of the GED test center and the adult literacy and English as a Second Language programs.  

The tenth anniversary celebration concluded with a tribute to the college staff, public officials and community-minded philanthropists whose vision, hard work and commitment made it possible to transform a building no longer needed by Bethlehem Steel into the vibrant community hub it is today.

Years before "the Southside looked like it looks today - before the Sands, ArtsQuest, the greenway, WLVT, and the charter school, Art Scott, Paul Pierpoint and Helene Whitaker put a stake in the ground to make this all possible," said NCC's current president, Dr. Mark Erickson.

Erickson credited Sue Kubik, NCC's long-time vice president for institutional advancement, for marshalling private support for the project, including a leadership gift from Linny and Beale Fowler for whom the building is named, and another from Joanne and Hank Barnette whose name identifies the conference room where the tribute ceremony was held.  Hank is the chairman emeritus of Bethlehem Steel. He was among the guests at the reception.

In an entertaining "history lesson" about the challenges involved in purchasing and renovating the building and "making this place come alive," Pierpoint noted the important roles played by then-Governor Ed Rendell, then-Mayor John Callahan, Alan Jennings of the Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, the Lehigh Valley legislative delegation including Lisa Boscola, Craig Dally and TJ Rooney, former State Senator Joe Uliana, and the people who work in the building.

The anniversary fête celebrated the Fowler Family Southside Center's first ten years, but President Erickson told guests to strap on their seatbelts.  "You're going to see more and more incredible things happen here," he promised.

Enjoy this photo gallery.