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Widener University Celebrates Opening of Bown Garden

About 15 years ago, Thomas H. Bown II, a member of the class of 1967, wrote the words, “To honor Bonnie Bown: my girlfriend, fiancée and wife through Pennsylvania Military College, Widener and life; Becky and Catherine’s mom.”
Bowns in Garden
Those words provided inspiration as he considered his long-time wish to make a significant gift to his alma mater, Widener University. On Sept. 29, the Bowns celebrated the dedication of the Bown Dome Sculpture Garden with 250 people at a black-tie dinner in the garden at Widener. Bonnie saw those words for the first time, chiseled in granite, along with the sculpture and the two-acre transformation of the center of Widener's campus.

Over the summer, the area adjacent to Widener's iconic Old Main building was transformed into an expansive green space featuring 36 Japanese Zelkova trees, centered by a 52-foot-tall dome sculpture that echoes the signature dome atop Old Main. The sculpture includes 11 monumental scale, 600-pound, solid stainless steel silhouettes depicting students, faculty and graduates in cap and gown below and surrounding the dome. The garden and sculpture were designed by Tom Bown and made possible through a $1.25 million gift from the Bowns.

"My concept for the dome sculpture was to create a focal point at the center of campus that reflects the strength of our historic past, our present sense of community and our bright future. Bonnie and I share a mutual interest in art and beautiful landscapes," said Tom Bown, a resident of Gwynedd Valley, Pa. and a long-time university trustee.

According to Widener University President James T. Harris III, the garden is more than a serene setting for the university community to enjoy. It will have meaning, as freshmen pass under the dome, over a six-foot granite seal of the University, following freshmen convocation at the outset of their Widener education. Then, at graduation, students will again pass through the dome symbolizing the completion of another phase of their education and entering the world community.

"This generous gift from Tom and Bonnie Bown not only honors their long love for each other," Harris said, "but it also honors the past, present and future of this proud institution."

Bonnie Bown added, "I was aware of our gift, of course, but Tom kept me from seeing the finished product of his design efforts until the dedication. I am amazed and proud of the beauty and feeling he has evoked."

"Our gift is to help ensure the future success of Widener so that the university will thrive and be available for others as it was for us so many years ago," Tom Bown added.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development, and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener is comprised of eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences and professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate's, baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral degrees. The university's campuses in Chester, Exton, and Harrisburg, Pa., and Wilmington, Del., serve approximately 6,500 students. Visit the university's website,, for more information.