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Hometown Heart: Building on a legacy


"I've become an advocate for quality healthcare in our community." - Joan Brower

It was 1944 when Joan Brower’s family moved to the up-and-coming town of State College. The then fourth-grader’s parents, the late J. Alvin and Vera Hawbaker, were relocating their young family so that J. Alvin could build homes for employees of the Ordnance Research Laboratory (ORL). The lab, now known as the Applied Research Laboratory (ARL), was moving from Harvard University to the then Pennsylvania State College.

The request was made by Eric Walker, who at the time held the dual role of ORL director and head of the electrical engineering department. Penn State’s future president, Walker said it would be easier – during the wartime housing shortage – to move the laboratory than to move the 80 families associated with it.

“We rented a room on South Allen Street for $7 a week back then,” shares Joan. “Everything was downtown; there were no outlying areas or housing developments. Old Main was my playground.”

Joan’s parents were longtime supporters of the local hospital from its inception. When Vera passed away in 2010, Joan and her brother, Samuel, designated their parents’ estate gift to the east wing expansion of Mount Nittany Medical Center and named a new intensive care room in their honor.

“My father and mother taught us so much in their 80 and 95 years of life, respectively. They both set good examples along the way. The example they taught through their generosity is important to the whole family," says Joan.

Joan and late husband Ralph Brower— of Kissinger Bigatel & Brower REALTORS® – were also great supporters of the Medical Center. Joan was a longtime hospital auxiliary volunteer, and Ralph served on the Mount Nittany Health Golf Classic committee for a number of years. The Browers also gifted monies to the Foundation for the construction of the Lance and Ellen Shaner Cancer Pavilion.

With Joan’s most recent gift to the new cardiovascular pavilion at the Medical Center, she says, “I am truly blessed with great health. Having been surrounded by family and loved ones with health issues all of my life, I’ve become an advocate for quality health care in our community. This pavilion is a huge step in continuing to provide that for our region, and I’m proud to be a part of that.”

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