Flying dentist who envisioned ski area dies at 87
Jack Fowler saw things others didn’t.
Where some might have seen a long commute to work, Fowler saw a chance to fly one of his beloved classic biplanes. Where some might have seen hazard, flying into the Guatemalan jungle, Fowler saw a chance to help people with no dental care.
And in 1960, where many people had seen a mountain basin above Sandpoint, Fowler saw the perfect spot for a ski resort. Almost half a century later, the little ski area he helped establish – Schweitzer Mountain Resort – has become a regional landmark and one of the country’s top ski destinations.
“He just always had a new thought,” said Debbie Huestis, Fowler’s stepdaughter. “He was such a visionary, and he would apply the passions of his life – whether it was skiing or flying or dentistry – to make that happen.”
Fowler, 87, died early Monday, surrounded by family and loved ones at his home near Marshall. He died two weeks after being diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer that had spread through his body, Huestis said.
His family remembered him as a man with a hunger for adventure and a desire to help others, a practical man who worked constantly and deflected attention.
“He had absolutely no ego,” said his wife, Dorothy Fowler, 83. “He would be the first one to correct you if you started bragging about him.”
The story of Fowler’s inspiration to create Schweitzer has become a part of the ski hill’s lore and was recounted in the book, “Looking Back on Schweitzer.”
Driving back with his family from a miserable ski trip to Montana one day in 1960, Fowler stopped in Hope, Idaho, for a break. There, rising above Sandpoint, was a snow-packed mountain basin – the ideal place, he thought, for a ski hill a little closer to home.
For three years, he worked with others to promote the idea and raise money. The hill opened in 1963, with a single chairlift and a rope tow. He later sold his stock in the ski hill, though he returned with his family often – most recently in January.
Schweitzer is now owned by Harbor Properties Inc., and it includes a lodge village, 2,900 acres of terrain and 10 lifts, and is regularly included on lists of the best destination resorts.
“He just couldn’t believe it; he never envisioned it being that huge,” Dorothy Fowler said. “He’d just scratch his head. … The thing that amazed him is people building million-dollar homes up there.”
Born on a farm south of Spokane in 1922, Fowler went to military dental school, served in the Air Force and opened a dentistry practice in the Spokane Valley in 1949. He became a pilot in 1960, and flying – along with building and restoring airplanes – became one of his life’s passions.
He frequently flew between his office near Felts Field and the family home near Marshall. “They ended up calling him the flying dentist,” Huestis said.
He rebuilt nine planes and built one for his wife, who became a pilot the year after they married in 1966. During the 1970s, they flew to Guatemala frequently to perform dentistry for people without access to medical care.
Fowler encouraged and supported his wife’s sculpture – and she’s become widely known for her work in bronze. Her sculpture of Spokane native Michael Anderson, who died in the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia, stands near the Spokane Convention Center.
“They were such an inseparable team with every single aspect of their life,” Huestis said. “It was never just one person accomplishing something. It was always both of them.”
Jack and Dorothy Fowler had six children, 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
“He always loved a challenge,” his wife said. “He’d get things done. There was no ‘no’ in anything.”
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