Class of 2007: Fisher community rallies to support father and daughter

One of the last conversations Brian Bowers remembers having with his wife, Danne, was expressing relief that he had successfully finished the first phase of Fisher’s rigorous executive MBA program.

At the end of Spring Break 2006, Danne had just spent the week in London with daughter, Kate, a Fisher undergraduate. As Kate and Danne were returning to the United States, Danne fell ill on the flight stricken by an undiagnosed viral heart infection. She died unexpectedly en route home to Green Bay, Wis.

Devastated, Brian, a senior vice president for transportation company Schneider National in Wisconsin, was certain he would not be able to finish out the year in the executive education program. Kate, a logistics major, was also struggling with grief over the sudden loss of her mother.

Yet, the two, together with the support of their friends, classmates, Fisher faculty and staff, an OSU counselor—but most importantly each other—forged ahead with their studies last year. On June 10, father and daughter will both graduate on schedule at Ohio State’s commencement ceremony.

The decision to return to school was much easier for Kate. In her junior year, she knew that she would find support among her many friends, sorority sisters at Delta Gamma and the support services available at Ohio State.

“I had 50 girls I was living with, so I was never alone. I had family—my mother’s aunt and uncle—in Columbus. I took a lighter course load. My teachers were amazing,” Kate said about returning to school after the funeral. “Ohio State has free counseling available to students. That was a Godsend. Before this happened, I was apprehensive about therapy. I thought it was a sign of weakness. Now, I’m all for it.”

It was a different story for her father. As Brian’s world came crumbling down around him in the aftermath of losing his wife, his first impulse was to abandon his studies at Fisher for the remainder of the year.

“I didn’t think I could come back. I thought I needed to take a year off to re-group,” Brian recalled. “I came back in May to say my goodbyes to the class, but they wouldn’t let me (say goodbye). They said I had to come back.”

That show of support was unprecedented, recalled Carol Newcomb, executive director of Fisher’s Executive Education. “I have never seen an entire EMBA class come forward and not just ask us to help them get him back to class, but also many of them contacted him directly to offer their support and encouragement.”

Newcomb joined forces with Mara McKee, EMBA program manager, and Leslie Fine, academic director of the EMBA track, to let Brian know that they were committed to getting him through the year. The EMBA program is a combination of online and intensive monthly weekend courses.

“I believed that the interaction with his classmates would provide some support, and that the actual work would be a good distraction,” said Fine, an associate professor in marketing and logistics. “I just wanted Brian to know that when he joined our program he joined a new family, and that this family needed him and wanted him and that we could and would help him through his grief."

Kate did her part as well to persuade her father to stay. “She reminded me that when I came to Columbus for classes once a month, I was also coming to see her,” said Brian, who got to know Kate’s friends over the last year who gave him the nickname, Papa B.

Father and daughter became study buddies (she helped him with statistics, he helped her with logistics). Kate’s friends embraced her father and many of Brian’s Columbus-based classmates “adopted” Kate, the two said.

“I don’t know how I survived that year in the program,” Brian said about the remainder of 2006 at Fisher. “But then again, I don’t know how I would have survived without the program. I am so profoundly grateful to my classmates, Leslie Fine, Mara McKee and Carol Newcomb.”