Obituary: Charles R. Stowell / Tireless worker for county's elderly who helped restructure Kane

Feb. 16, 1927 - May 8, 2011

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Charles R. Stowell was an architect of Allegheny County's efforts to rid itself of the massive, troubled Kane Hospital for care of poor elderly and subsequently to build a system of in-home assistance for older adults.

He became so valued for his knowledge of and advocacy for the region's burgeoning elderly population in the late 20th century that longtime Allegheny County Commissioner Tom Foerster dubbed Mr. Stowell "Chuck the Elder," which also helped distinguish him from many other Chucks filling key county positions at the time.

Mr. Stowell, the first director of the county's Department of Aging, died Sunday at UPMC St. Margaret after a series of illnesses. The longtime Penn Hills resident was 84. Since falling and injuring himself 11 months ago, he had resided at The Willows, Presbyterian SeniorCare's nursing home in Oakmont.

A veteran of more than four decades in city, county and state offices by the time he retired in 1992, Mr. Stowell was savvy about how to make the government bureaucracy work for people instead of against them. He was recognized for compassion as well as for the planning skills that led to numerous appointments in which he headed government task forces and committees.

"For a bureaucrat, it's very easy to be by the book, but he was not that kind of bureaucrat," said Charles "Chuck" Peters, former director of county mental health and retardation programs. "He was not above bending regulations, twisting them a bit, to make things work better for the aging population."

The ruddy, rotund Mr. Stowell, a member of the South Side Celtic Society with a long passion for the Steelers, was a native of Brighton Heights.

He attended North Catholic High School before enlisting in the Army Air Forces near the end of World War II and afterward pursuing a bachelor's degree at the University of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Stowell's first government job was performing restaurant inspections in the early 1950s, when the city of Pittsburgh still had its own health department.

Employment followed with the Pennsylvania Department of Health from 1954 to 1966, rising to become a regional supervisor. He had obtained a master's degree in public health from Pitt in 1957 and went on to various county Health Department posts from 1966 to 1978.

He then served as executive director of Kane Hospital from 1978 to 1981.

Kane was a large institution in Scott that had long been plagued with physical maintenance issues and difficulty providing quality care for nearly 1,500 patients. Mr. Stowell spent long hours at the facility, sometimes staying overnight, and his family members would join him on the holidays to serve meals to residents there.

The county commissioners had Mr. Stowell co-chair a panel to recommend a better way of caring for the frail elderly, and the result was the four smaller Kane facilities still in use today in Scott, Ross, McKeesport and Glen Hazel.

Those more manageable operations opened in 1983 and 1984, by which time Mr. Stowell had been named director of the county's Office of Long-Term Care. He oversaw programs and planning for home services, respite care, homeless shelters, food pantries and more.

He headed a pilot program arranging in-home personal care aides for older adults to help them avoid the need for nursing homes, a precursor of the Options program that today assists thousands of people above age 60 annually.

"He played a key role in the transformation of services for senior citizens," said Robert Nelkin, a former Foerster aide who oversaw human services for the county. "He had helped the county improve its services in what was available in institutions and nursing homes, but then helped develop a practical system to help thousands of individuals be healthy and safe in their own homes."

When the county's various aging-related programs were merged in 1988, he became the new department's first director. After retirement four years later, his favorite pastime became attending the lifelong learning courses at Oakland universities with Dolores, his wife of 60 years.

In addition to her, Mr. Stowell is survived by one daughter, Susan Sauer of the North Hills; two sons, Craig Stowell of Vero Beach, Fla., and Andrew Stowell of Penn Hills; three grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Friends will be received from 10:30 a.m. to noon today at McCabe Brothers Funeral Home, 6214 Walnut St., Shadyside. A Mass will be celebrated at 1 p.m. in Sacred Heart Church, 310 Shady Ave.

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.


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