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3RF initiator, The Landing developer dies at 88

Joan C. Dixon White, a pioneer of the Three Rivers Festival, died Feb. 5 in Arizona at the age of 88.

As a young woman, White worked at The Journal Gazette after graduating from Stephans College.

While working at the newspaper, she met and married Ed White, who in 1952 founded Bowmar Instrument Corp.

In the fall of 1967, White was contacted by then-Fort Wayne Mayor Harold Zeis, who was looking to do something special for city residents. He asked White for some ideas, according to a letter White sent to The Journal Gazette in 1993.

White met with several business and city representatives and pitched her idea of Family Fun Days, a community festival. The name was changed to Three Rivers Festival to better reflect the city and focus on the rivers.

The first festival was held the following July in 1969. Interviewed in 1978 – after the festival had become an annual event – White said that while the first festival was not considered a prestigious affair, it went beautifully and everyone was astounded at its success.

The first parade took place on the river and the festival featured more than 100 events, White later told reporters.

White chaired the event for several years before her family moved to Nogales, Ariz.

White was also well known for her work as a developer of properties on Columbia Street, also called The Landing.

Retired Baker & Daniels lawyer Mac Parker represented White and her development interests. He and his wife soon became friends with Ed and Joan White.

“I was her attorney when she became involved in developing Columbia Street,” Parker said.

“Joan and my wife and I, along with Bob Arnold, who was head of the Fort Wayne Parks, got together and planted all those sycamore trees along Columbia Street,” he said. “They were just little saplings then.”

The large, stately trees now canopy Columbia Street.

“At one time, she owned three restaurants on The Landing,” Parker said. “Joan was instrumental in the rejuvenation of Columbia Street, which at the time had some ramshackle buildings.”

White served on the board of directors of Bowmar Instrument Corp. and was an animal lover and activist.

“She especially loved dogs and always owned dogs,” Parker said.

White is survived by her husband and a daughter, Leslie, and was preceded in death by a son, Dixon.