The remarkable life of Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko

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Three years ago, on July 20, 2014, the Arlington Diocese lost a cherished friend and philanthropist, Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko. Rose’s philanthropic imprint is especially visible in the immediate area as well as several counties throughout Virginia. It is fitting to look back and reflect on her remarkable life.

 

In the 1930s as a teenager, Rose immigrated to the United States from Germany. Later, when she married Raymond H. Bente, his reputation as an entrepreneur coupled with her talent as a designer with a fondness for fabric and fashion, made them an ideal match. By combining their talents, they founded House of Fine Fabrics, which grew into a large retail chain of 17 stores in the Washington area.

 

After Ray’s death, Rose sold the business in 1978. Now established as an astute businesswoman, Rose began investing in development and partnered in projects in the metro region and beyond.

 

Already charitable, she truly embarked on her philanthropic lifework after she married Robert E. Lee, a commissioner and chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. The focus of her eventual legendary generosity included her faith, education, healthcare, the arts and the poor.

 

After the death of her second husband, she married Rear Adm. William M. Ostapenko in 1999, who encouraged Rose to continue and expand her philanthropic legacy.

 

A vital component of Rose’s generous acts of giving was that her gifts delivered permanence and resulted in multiple brick-and-mortar projects. She accomplished this by establishing the Robert E. Lee Oncology Unit at Virginia Hospital Center in memory of her late husband who died of cancer. She later funded the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Outpatient Oncology Center. She also supported the Vince Lombardi Cancer Research Center at Georgetown University Hospital as well the Hospice Center in Arlington.

 

As a board member at Marymount University in Arlington, Rose’s vision and generosity established the Rose Bente Lee Endowment Scholarship in Nursing, benefiting close to 100 students to date. Her gift of the Marymount Student Center, later named the Rose Bente Lee Center, was followed by the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko residence hall in recognition of her contributions and leadership.

 

Always the visionary, Rose donated 30 acres to the Germanna Community College Educational Foundations in Culpeper for a technology skills center. She also supported Niagara University in New York and the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., where she served on the advisory board for three years.

 

As a Catholic, she was a longtime parishioner at St. Agnes Church in Arlington where she helped fund numerous projects including gifting two organs to the parish.

 

Some years ago, Bishop Paul S. Loverde discussed with her the need for a priest retirement home. In her quiet and preferred style, she provided the majority of funds for the construction of the St. Rose of Lima Retirement Villa in Annandale.

 

Bishop Loverde, who is now retired, lives at the villa with six other priests. It was important to Rose that diocesan priests, who have served the community so faithfully and for so long, have a retirement home for themselves. The wheelchair-accessible, 15,000-square-foot home provides a peaceful, dignified environment, which can accommodate up to 15 priests.

 

Rose expressed her affinity for seniors when she solely funded the construction of Malta House, an assisted living residence in Hyattsville, Md., for seniors who can no longer live on their own and may need assistance or supervision. The facility has 31 private rooms/baths for residents who receive three home-cooked meals daily.

 

Rose’s faith extended beyond the Christian faith. She was a loyal supporter to the United Jewish Appeal Foundation and the Jewish Council for the Aging. In addition, the Salvation Army was a recipient of her generous charity for years.

 

As a testament to her faith, Rose had chapels built at Malta House, St. Rose of Lima Retirement Villa and the Air Force Academy. After donating 60 acres of land in Orange County to help Childhelp USA East, she donated funds for a chapel for that facility.

 

Rose loved how the arts lifted the human spirit and supported the National Ballet, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Virginia Chamber Orchestra and Wolf Trap. She supported the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts by underwriting six box seats in the Opera House. Rose, along with many others, was a founder of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which opened in Washington in 1987.

 

She was a creative, fearless, strong business woman, who, according to her nephew, Bob Neuland, was at ease negotiating in a man’s world. Her ability to see the bigger picture and welcome roles of leadership came easily to Rose. When she learned of a problem, she simply, yet discretely, acted to solve it.

 

“We will never know how many lives have been uplifted, comforted and strengthened through her generous and compassionate spirit, but through her many acts of kindness she left a lasting impact for generations to come,” said Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge.

 

“Her work now continues with the establishment of the Rose Bente Lee Endowment Fund from her estate that will generate substantial annual income for perpetuity to help the Catholic Church in the Arlington Diocese.”

 

Koch is director of planned giving for the Office of Development.

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017