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Published: Thursday, 6/26/2003

Community activist was force behind Bryan parks

BRYAN - Elizabeth Fenton, who helped establish a parks and recreation program for Bryan residents and a concert series that attracts well-known musical performers to the city, died of respiratory failure Saturday in Parkview Hospital, Fort Wayne, Ind. She was 91.

Active in many civic and community affairs, Mrs. Fenton spearheaded the development of a parks and recreation program in the early 1960s that tripled park land in the community.

“It is a whole park system, with tennis courts and playing fields,” Nancy Karlsson, her daughter, said. “It's been in use for many years, and I think a lot of people have enjoyed it. It was a major plan for sports and recreation in the town.”

In 1953, Mrs. Fenton was named the first president of the Bryan Community Concert Series. She organized fund-raising efforts and ticket sales to attract a wide range of performers, such as and the Vienna Boys Choir and bass-baritone William Warfield.

“To get those people to come to a town of 10,000 was wonderful,” her daughter said.

Longtime friend Ernestine Spangler credited Mrs. Fenton with revitalizing the Literary Forum, a book club that originated in the 1930s that selected literature on religion, politics, medicine, and other topics.

“The things that Betty and I did were community things that already existed, but needed a push and improved what Bryan already had,” Ms. Spangler said.

Born in Bryan, Mrs. Fenton was the valedictorian of her class when she graduated from Bryan High School in 1929. She attended Hillsdale College and later taught math and basketball in Winchester, Ohio.

Surviving are her son, Clifton; daughter, Nancy Karlsson; and five grandchildren.

Services will be at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow in First Presbyterian Church. Arrangements are by the Rice-Burr Funeral Home.

The family requests tributes be to the Bryan Public Library or the Bryan Area Foundation-Arts Program.

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