Fay Reifsnyder Biles, age 93, passed peacefully into heaven from her temporary abode Brooks-Howell Home in Asheville, NC, on Wednesday, October 28, 2020. She never lost her vibrant smile and sweet, indomitable spirit, though she battled Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia the last 6 years of her life.
Fay was born to Thomas and Dora (Weaver) Reifsnyder on March 31, 1927, in Reading, PA. She grew up in West Chester, PA, where she began what was to become a life of service, leadership, and honors. Even as a child and adolescent, she was a competitive leader, organizing sports activities, playing tennis, softball, field hockey, and becoming the first female to be elected vice president of her high school student body. She was one of two females from the Philadelphia area selected to attend Duke University, where she had a triple major in Biology, English, and Physical Education. While at Duke, she met the love of her life, returning war hero and athlete, Bedford Biles. After her graduation, they married on August 7, 1949.
Moving to Akron, Ohio, she taught at Coventry High School for 5 years. Pursuing her Master’s Degree at Kent State University, she quickly became an Instructor in the Physical Education Department, teaching for 16 years, and coaching an undefeated female field hockey team. While teaching at Kent, she enrolled in Ohio State’s Doctoral Program, earning a multi-disciplinary Doctorate with a groundbreaking dissertation. Along with working on her doctorate, she did pioneer teaching using the medium of television, even bringing an elephant into the studio to make a point in one of her classes. She received the Distinguished Teaching Award at Kent State in 1970.
Her passion for teaching physical education spurred her to direct the new PEPI (Physical Education Public Information) national project, traveling the country, speaking and appearing on national television programs. Concluding that project, she once again broke the “glass ceiling” in 1972 when she was tapped by the new president of Kent State to become the first woman vice president of any Ohio university, and the first female in the country in the position of Vice President of Public Affairs and Development. This role proved to be critical in the history of KSU because of the tragic events of May 4, 1970. Raising the most funding of any predecessor, after holding the position of Vice President for 6 years, she resigned in 1978 to return to her professorship, retiring in 1985.
Fay was most proud of her association with the American Heart Association, as she developed the Jump Rope for Heart Program., which has now raised over $1.2 billion promoting heart health education and nutrition for elementary and high school students. She received the National Merit Award from the American Heart Association in 1988 for her work in helping reduce cardiovascular disease. An annual award is given in her name by AHA.
A few of her numerous accomplishments include being named to the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1986, serving as president of the American Association of Health, Physical Education, and Dance, serving on the United States Olympic Committee for 16 years and the Olympic Committee Education Council, White House appointment to Sea Grant Review Panel; Keynote speaker in Israel for the World Congress of International Council of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, and also replacing Menachem Begin when he became ill.
Fulfilling their long-term promise to each other, Fay and her beloved Bedford settled on Marco Island, Florida after their retirement in the late 1980s, and built their dream home. However, his lifelong support of her busy life did not retire, as she became president of the Marco Island chapter of the American Association of University Women, was founder and president of Marco Island Taxpayers Association, and was instrumental in the development of Florida Gulf Coast University.
After Bedford’s death in 2013, Fay’s love for her family and theirs for her, and her failing health brought her under the care of her nephews, and she moved to Asheville, North Carolina, visiting Pennsylvania as long as her health permitted.
She was predeceased by her beloved husband of 64 years, Bedford, parents Thomas and Dora Reifsnyder, sister Evelyn (George) Reigner of Wallingford, PA. She is survived by sister Beatrice R. Hallman of Royersford, PA, nephew Ed (Donna) Reigner of Asheville, NC, their children Kristin (Terrence), Josh, nephew Tom (Helena) Reigner of Brookhaven, PA, their children Eric (Carol), Kevin (Renae), Megan, nephew Craig (Kathleen) Hallman of Birdsboro, PA, his children Kelly, Rachel Marie, nephew Rusty Biles of Greenville, SC, and many great-great nephews and nieces.
A special thank you to the Brooks-Howell Home administration and staff, and especially Dr. Hiren Patel, the nurses and CNA “angels,” all who took such wonderful, loving care of our Aunt Fay.
In lieu of flowers, memorials in memory of Fay may be made to:
Brooks-Howell Home, 266 Merrimon Ave, Asheville, NC 28801 memo: Memory Fay Biles
Kent State University Foundation
Florida Gulf Coast University
Burial will be at a later date on Marco Island, Florida.