German American Heritage executive director celebrates 1 year

Posted Online: Oct. 06, 2012, 11:02 pm
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By Lindsay Hocker, lhocker@qconline.com
Janet Brown-Lowe considers herself an adopted German.

Ms. Brown-Lowe, who is British and Scottish by heritage, recently celebrated her one-year anniversary as executive director of the German American Heritage Center, 712 W. 2nd St., Davenport.

She founded the German language program at Bettendorf High School, and taught it for 33 years before retiring in 2010.

Her love of the German language began after high school, when she studied in Germany for a year between high school and college.

Germany was "the last place I expected to be because I didn't know any German." Ms. Brown-Lowe said.

She spent almost a year in the small town of Bad Hersfeld, where she almost was never around other Americans, and only one member of her host family spoke English.

That was a good thing, she said, because she was immersed in the culture and language. "Basically it was a high dive into the deep end of the pool."

Ms. Brown-Lowe said a family friend, who didn't know English, helped teach her German. When she'd say something incorrect, he'd "help me get the mistake out."

She arrived in July, and by Christmas, was "able to understand just about everything people were saying to me," but still kept her German dictionary handy.

Ms. Brown-Lowe keeps in touch with her host family, and said they're the reason she feels like an adopted German. She calls her host parents every month, and has visited them several times.

When she retired from Bettendorf High School, Ms. Brown-Lowe, a long-time German Heritage Center board member, didn't plan on another job, but the director position "just kind of popped up."

As director, her work includes coming up with new exhibit ideas, administrative tasks, making sure the building is maintained and fundraising. She is one of two paid employees.

Assistant director Kelly Lao said Ms. Brown-Lowe creates a bridge between German-speaking visitors, students and the center's contacts in Germany.

"She's very enthusiastic, always up for a new project," Ms. Lao said. "She's here every day. It's something she really cares about."

The German American Heritage Center first opened its doors to the public in 2001. The 712 W. 2nd St., Davenport building is a former immigrant hotel that was built in 1861.

Many German immigrants picked this hotel as the place to start their lives in the Quad-Cities. Ms. Brown-Lowe said it was a "safe place to stay, but not for a very long time."

People who lived there would stay just long enough to get in touch with relatives or to find a job.

The German American Heritage Center was founded as a nonprofit in 1994, and purchased the building the following year and began renovating it.

State, county and city funds, as well as private donations, made the renovations possible.

"It was a huge job. It had not been occupied for a number of years," Ms. Brown-Lowe said, adding she swept up her share of dead pigeons.

The center plans on launching a fundraising campaign later this year to raise money to retire some debts and help stabilize operating money.

Ms. Brown-Lowe said the center is searching for grants to apply for to renovate the "one unfinished corner here," which will become a library for the center.

In 2009, the center opened a permanent exhibit on the third floor of its building. Part of the exhibit is called "Step into my Shoes," where people can stand on footprints, which triggers an immigrant character to appear on a screen and talk about his or her experience.

Ms. Brown-Lowe said she likes being able to put her language skills to use at the German American Heritage Center and the teaching and learning aspects of the job. "In some ways I am still teaching, just not in the classroom."

Janet Brown-Lowe

Job: Executive director of the German American Heritage Center
Lives in: Bettendorf
Hometown: Council Bluffs, Iowa
Family: Husband, Jerry Lowe, and three adult children, Meredith, Erika and David
Education: Master's degree in German from Indiana University and a bachelor's degree with a double major in German and history and a minor in French at Morningside College in Sioux City.
Hobbies: Reading, traveling, sewing
Favorite quotation: "Be joyful though you have considered all the facts." -- Wendell Berry


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