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After surviving severe abuse at her mother’s hands as a child, Jeanne Fowler became a champion for children.

“Not many people can rise above their past the way she did,” said John Iras, a friend and co-worker. “She always felt you have to take charge of your life and move forward.

“Jeanne felt if she let (the past) control her life, it would control her life forever. She said she wouldn’t let that happen to her and she tried to teach others the same thing.”

Ms. Fowler died Monday, Sept. 7, 2015, of natural causes at her home in Roseville. She was 68.

The abuse she suffered prompted her in 2000 to found Big Family of Michigan, which helps at-risk and foster care children. She also wrote a book in 2005 about her abusive childhood, “Peter’s Lullaby,” in reference to a song her younger brother hummed at night that comforted her.

Born in Plattsburgh, New York, Ms. Fowler was one of seven children born to Veronica Burowsky, who, according to Fowler and news reports, was an alcoholic who abused her children.

Authorities removed the children from Burowsky’s care in 1950 and sent them to different foster homes. However, Burowsky regained custody of the children in 1952 and moved them to Chicago.

The abuse resumed until Ms. Fowler’s 3-year-old brother, Peter, died from the beatings in 1953. Police arrested Ms. Fowler’s mother and step-father, Peter Burowsky.

Ms. Fowler’s mother pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter, was sentenced to 14 years in prison and served eight. Convicted as a passive participant, Peter Burowsky served one year in prison.

Ms. Fowler then grew up in several abusive foster families and got married when she was old enough. She was widowed and later remarried. Her second husband’s job brought them to Metro Detroit in 1999. The two later divorced.

Inspired by author and child-abuse survivor Dave Pelzer, Ms. Fowler decided to make it her mission in life to raise awareness about child abuse and to help children who are abused or waiting to be adopted.

In her brother Peter’s memory, she founded Big Family of Michigan and served as president of the Harrison Township-based charity, which gives at-risk and foster care children stuffed animals, birthday parties, school supplies, care packages. It also takes children on outings to sports and cultural events and provides college scholarships.

Since its inception, the charity group has helped thousands of kids.

She and her nonprofit received more than a dozen awards for their efforts, including the Congressional Medal of Honor Above and Beyond Award in 2009. The Detroit News also honored Fowler and her charity by naming her Michiganian of the Year in 2012.

Iras, Big Family of Michigan’s director of operations, said the nonprofit’s board of directors plans to keep the charity running “to keep Fowler’s legacy alive.”

“She was just an outstanding person,” Iras said. “Everyone who knew her liked her. I don’t think she had an enemy in the world.”

Fowler is survived by her son, David Kinser; daughter April Reuss; and grandchildren Brian Kinser and Shelby Reuss.

Visitation will be from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Margaret of Scotland Parish, 21201 E. 13 Mile in St. Clair Shores. A memorial service will follow.

Memorial contributions may be made to Big Family of Michigan Inc., 41757 Irwin Road, Harrison Township, MI 48045, or at www.bigfamilyofmichigan.org.

CRamirez@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2058

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