Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce

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


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 Art.
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 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 he studied with musicologist Dr. Alfred Einstein, and a Ph.D. in musicology from the Catholic University of America.
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.

“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.

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