Rosie Fonger has never been one to back down from adversity. During her lifetime, the 92-year old has started a business, brokered a deal that ushered in Lowell’s largest residential development and launched a women’s golf league. However, she is currently facing a challenge unlike any other.
Fonger was recently diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and has just started treatment. “She could have chosen to let nature take its course but instead chose to fight cancer,” says her grandson Craig Fonger.
To lift her spirits, family and friends are organizing a Rally for Rosie today, December 31. They invite community members to gather at the fairgrounds in Recreation Park at 4pm for a caravan past Rosie’s home on Bowes Rd. Those who can’t be a part of the caravan are invited to send cards and well-wishes to her at 750 Bowes Rd., Lowell, MI 49331.
Pioneering Businesswoman in Lowell
Longtime residents may remember Fonger’s restaurant, Rosie’s Drive Inn. She opened it in 1966, at a time when women weren’t necessarily expected to be in the workforce, let alone be the boss.
Craig Fonger shares the story of how his grandmother managed to get funding for the business. In those days, women weren’t typically granted loans or credit cards unless a man was signing on as well. When the late Harold Englehardt, then president of the State Savings Bank, asked about her assets as part of the loan application, Rosie was quick to reply, “Damn it, I’m sittin’ on them!”
Rosie’s Drive Inn operated on Main Street until 1981 when Fonger decided it was time to get out “while the gettin’s good.” The site of her business would go onto become a 7-11 and is where Mynt Fusion is located today.
However, the restaurant wasn’t Fonger’s only business deal. She owned land on the south side of town near the Grand River and, recognizing its value, marketed it to developers. The property eventually sold and became what is now Pebble Beach Apartments.
Sports Enthusiast, Champion of Equality
Beyond business, Fonger has a love for golf. She’s been an avid player and started one of the first women’s golf leagues in Lowell more than 50 years ago. As a senior, she has won bronze, silver and gold medals in golf during the Polk County Senior Olympics in Lakeland, Florida, where she has spent many winters. She is also a force to be reckoned with in shuffleboard and cards, games in which she also medaled as part of the Senior Olympics.
However, she isn’t just passionate about sports. Fonger has been an advocate of equal rights as well. She and her late husband Mac – who served as Lowell’s assistant postmaster for many years – weren’t shy about standing up for what was right. For instance, when other fans began boycotting the Detroit Tigers because the team had African American players, the couple made a point to attend games.
In recognition of her contributions to the community, Fonger received a special proclamation from the City of Lowell in honor of her 80th birthday in 2008. She was also honored by the Lowell Rotary Club in the past for her accomplishments as a businesswomen.
Rally for Rosie Happening Today
Craig Fonger hopes people will turn out this afternoon at 4pm to brighten the spirits of his grandmother. When asked about his goal for the Rally for Rosie, he says simply, “To show [her] that a town is behind her fight against cancer and still remembers all of her contributions.”
Participants are asked to be at the fairgrounds at Recreation Park at 4pm. Cars can be decorated but that isn’t necessary. Vehicles will then caravan west on Bowes Road past Fonger’s residence before looping around for a second pass. Craig Fonger asks that no one stop to visit with Rosie since they want to avoid any potential spread of COVID-19. He also asks that people gathering at the fairgrounds remember masking and social distancing guidelines.
For more information, visit the Rally for Rosie Facebook event page.