With twinkling lights hanging from the ceiling, an arena that normally hosts athletic events was transformed Friday night into a venue of celebration for generosity and philanthropy to higher education in Washington County.
Billed as one of the largest fundraisers in the county, about 750 people came together inside the Athletic, Recreation and Community Center at Hagerstown Community College for an annual event put on by the HCC Foundation and the HCC Booster Club.
“I think this is the premiere event annually in Washington County in regard to raising funds for a terrific cause,” HCC President Guy Altieri said of the 14th annual fundraiser.
Organizer Stacey Lowman, HCC’s executive director of college advancement, said she expected the event to raise about $200,000 through tickets, sponsorships and donations, all of which goes toward the student scholarships for a variety of programs.
“These can go toward athletic scholarships, academic scholarships, specific program scholarships, like nursing or rad tech, so it’s up to the tributee to decide afterward where they want those scholarships to end up,” she said.
Each year, the alumni association selects and pays tribute to someone in the community who greatly impacts the area through his or her philanthropic service, Lowman said.
This year’s honoree was Howard “Blackie” Bowen of Hagerstown.
“Blackie is a quiet man in the community, but has done a tremendous amount both philanthropically and in the business community,” Lowman said. “He owns Ewing Oil, Western Maryland Fast Food, which operate six Burger King franchises, Liberty Gas stations and Antique Crossroads.”
Bowen and his wife, Ginny, contribute to a variety of nonprofits in the area, including the Arc of Washington County, Community Foundation of Washington County, Meritus Medical Center, The Maryland Theatre and more.
Altieri said Bowen and his wife have “contributed an awful lot to the community and we’re so pleased to recognize them.”
Bowen, who said he likes to “keep it low key” as far as his charitable contributions, said he was humbled by the experience.
“It’s nice to be recognized,” he said. “All the work and contributions ... that my wife and I have made over the years have been made because we love the community.”
The $125-a-ticket event began with a cocktail hour before a dinner program that included comments from Bowen, former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, one of Bowen’s personal friends, as well as Bowen’s son, Taylor, who operates Bowen Prudential Realty. A video montage of Bowen’s life also was shown to guests.
Lowman said planning for the event starts about a year in advance as they begin searching for their next honoree. Large photo displays of the 13 others honored in previous years were set up along a divider inside the ARRC.
“We have spent the whole week getting ready,” Lowman said.
Altieri said this year’s event would push the amount of money raised for the school’s scholarship fund over the $1 million mark. The endowment funds about $400,000 worth of scholarships each year, Lowman said.
“We’re quite excited about having those dollars endowed into scholarships well into the future for local individuals — many immediate high school graduates — who could not go onto college if these opportunities ... and scholarships weren’t there,” he said.
Although he admitted that he was enjoying the limelight, Bowen chose to credit the generosity of others in the area as well who help to make the event such a big success every year.
“... It’s amazing the philanthropy within this community,” Bowen said. “It’s nice to be a part of that.”
Editor's note: This story was edited on April 22, 2013 to correct information about the sponsors of the event.