Professor Emerita Catherine Dower donates $1M to Westfield State University

Nov 17, 2015

WESTFIELD, Mass., November 17, 2015 - Musician, professor emerita of music history and literature, and philanthropist Dr. Catherine Dower of Holyoke, Mass. is donating $1M to Westfield State University, the single largest gift in university history. The donation will be used to establish the Catherine Dower Center for the Performing & Fine Arts.

The donation was announced at the intermission of the Westfield State University Wind Symphony fall concert on Tuesday, November 17. This will be the first academic building on the Westfield State campus named after a woman.

“Catherine Dower is an inspiration – she has been a pioneer and leader her whole career as an educator and as a musician. She has also been a lifelong champion for racial and gender equality and fierce advocate for public higher education,” said Elizabeth Preston, president, Westfield State University. “With this major gift, Dr. Dower is now serving as a leader in philanthropy and her legacy will inspire and support future generations of students, faculty and staff.

Dr. Dower taught at Westfield State University from 1956 – 1990 and was chair of the Music Department from 1956 – 1967. Musical events were an important part of campus life and as director of the Westfield State College Glee Club, she was instrumental in facilitating performances that were both entertaining and educational. One memorable Westfield State Glee Club performance included serenading the senators from the newest states in the union, Alaska and Hawaii, in 1959.

A voracious scholar fascinated by the intersection of music and culture, Dr. Dower spent time studying music at its various sources including time spent in research at the Vatican Library in preparation for an article on Sistine Chapel choir books as well as time at the University of Innsbruck, Austria; the University of Southern California; the Pius X School of Liturgical Music at Manhattanville College; Solesmes Abbey in France, noted for its Gregorian chants, and the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. She also spent time studying the music of the Caribbean, especially Puerto Rican music, as well as Irish and Medieval music.

Time spent with students and her own scholarship resulted in articles, manuscripts and books on various aspects of music history that have garnered her numerous accolades and recognitions, which include her installation as a member of the Academia des Artes y Ciencias de Puerto Rico in 1977; investiture in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a Roman Catholic order of knighthood under the protection of the Pope; recipient of the Tolerance Medal from the Council for Human Understanding, Holyoke, 1985; named Career Woman of the Year from Quota International – Holyoke Chapter, 1988; received the Pride in Performance Award from Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988; received the U.S. Congressional Certificate of Merit in 1990, and received the Commonwealth of Massachusetts citation in 1990.

Dr. Dower retired from Westfield State in 1990 and was named professor emerita of music history and literature in 1991. Since her retirement she has continued to support and share her artistry with new generations of music students. She has generously supported various activities in the music department including the establishment of a music scholarship in her name in 1994.

Dr. Dower earned her B.A. from Hamline University , Phi Beta Kappa, where she studied under composer Ernst Krenek, an M.A. in musicology from Smith College where studied with musicologist Dr. Alfred Einstein, and a Ph.D. in musicology from the Catholic University of America.

“We are very grateful for Dr. Dower's extraordinarily generous gift to our university and are reminded of the importance of philanthropy and giving back," said Mike Knapik, executive director of University Advancement.  "The Westfield State Foundation will steward and nurture this donation so it will benefit our students and faculty for generations to come.  Catherine's professional contributions at our university are historic and her gift is the most generous ever recorded," he added.    

The donation will be used to support student scholarships, music department operations, and a $50,000 challenge grant to purchase a grand piano for the department.

About the Westfield State Department of Music

From the time when the doors to this institution opened over 175 years ago, music has been a part of the curriculum in training teachers, educating citizens and enriching communities.  It was in 1970 under the leadership of Dr. Catherine Dower that the music major was formed. Today the music department serves over 1,500 Westfield State University students each year through liberal arts core courses in music, and trains approximately 80 music majors and minors who focus on applied musical study.  There are currently 35 scholars and performers who make up the music faculty at Westfield State.

“This gift from Professor Emerita Dower will allow our program to 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 milestone contribution that will provide exciting opportunities for our students to travel, perform, study, and give back to the community,” said Andrew Bonacci, associate professor and chair of the Department of Music.

Westfield offers a comprehensive music curriculum covering studies in classical and jazz performance, music composition, music history, and a state approved program in Music Education leading to K-12 licensure for teachers of music.  The department enriches both the academic community and the Greater Westfield community with over 60 public performances of students and faculty artists each year, from opera, choral, and musical theatre productions, to wind symphony, string ensemble, solo and chamber music recitals, and a variety of jazz and new music performances.  Westfield State University is fully accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music.  

In addition to her commitment to Westfield State, Dr. Dower is a devoted community member of Holyoke. She founded the Massachusetts chapter of the Irish American Cultural Institute in Holyoke, was named a life member of the Irish Cultural Center at Elms College, and served on the St. Patrick’s Committee of Holyoke, presiding as Honorary Marshall of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 2007. Dr. Dower also served on the board of directors for the Hispanic Institute of Holyoke. She is a supporter of the Holyoke Public Library and continues to serve on its board.

The Catherine  Dower Center for the Performing & Fine Arts will be located on the site of the former Juniper Park School. The university anticipates construction and renovations to the center site to begin in January 2016 and completed by December. In honor of its former tenants, the building will include a display highlighting the history of Juniper Park School.