Enduring Gift from a Compassionate Leader: $1 million donation will fund performing arts center on campus


Dr. Catherine A. Dower’s passion and commitment to Westfield State University resonates in the heart and mind of University Trustee Robert A. Johnson ’70, M’72 in a profound memory from the 1960s.

A member of the Glee Club at that time, Johnson traveled with Dr. Dower to Washington, D.C., to Howard University, one of the pre-eminent African-American colleges in the country, where club members in the two groups performed separately and then joined voices on stage. At a time when the Civil Rights movement was at its tipping point, the students sang “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

“There was not a dry eye in the room,” Johnson says. “Catherine calculated that moment, knowing it was going to be as powerful as it was.”

Through hundreds of such moments and gifts of time and talent to students, Dr. Dower has worked to grow and reestablish the University’s Music Department since the mid-1950s. She has well earned a reputation as a pioneer, educator, leader, philanthropist and champion for racial and gender equality.

Her advocacy for public higher education was never more evident than in November 2015, when it was announced Dr. Dower donated $1 million to establish the Catherine Dower Center for the Performing & Fine Arts on campus.

Many are touched by her devotion to students, faculty, staff, and the greater Westfield community, especially alumni.

Andrew Bonacci, chair of the Westfield State Music Department, began his University career several years following Dr. Dower’s retirement in 1990, after which she was named professor emerita of music history and literature. He vividly recalls that her presence was still palpable. 

“From the scholarship fund and performing arts series in her name, to the books and the Irish Collection of musical scores that she so carefully curated, to the countless stories that her colleagues and former students so fondly recalled, Catherine Dower’s influence was everywhere,” he says. 

With Dr. Dower’s generous donation, Bonacci believes the music program will move beyond “sustaining the wonderful things that we’re doing.”

“It will enable us to grow and move closer to realizing a greater vision for the program. It is a transformative gift that will provide exciting opportunities for our students to travel, perform, study, and give back to the community,” he says. “We are so appreciative, and will work hard to honor her legacy.”

During her 35-year tenure, Dr. Dower gave entirely of herself. She spent her own funds, and her own time, to provide the best possible educational music experience for students. Mindful that many were training to be teachers, she believed providing real-world, off-campus experiences were critical. Such opportunities included performances by the University’s Glee Club at the World’s Fair in New York City and on the steps of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

In making the $1 million donation, the largest in Westfield State’s history, Dr. Dower is excited that the University and community will have a central place to enjoy the music and the arts. The majority of the funds will be placed in an endowment and used for student scholarships, initiatives, program needs, travel, and conferences. In addition, $50,000 will be earmarked for a dollar-for-dollar matching campaign, which will help purchase a grand piano for the department.

For Johnson, Dr. Dower’s enduring affection for, and loyalty to, the University is an inspiration for all. “She is a great ambassador of the University. Being able to make a financial contribution like she did for the good of so many during her lifetime is an enduring gift,” he says.


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