Widener marks 150 years of history at Old Main
CHESTER >> The Widener University community gathered Thursday afternoon to launch Homecoming Weekend 2018 with a tribute to its historic Old Main.
About 100 persons gathered in Alumni Auditorium to hear from speakers Julie E. Wollman, Ph.D., university president; Ron Romanowicz, Class of 1968 and chairman of the Pennsylvania Military College Museum Committee; and David Guleke, co-founder and president of the Chester Historical Preservation Committee, on the significance of Old Main to Widener, its predecessor institution Pennsylvania Military College and the city of Chester.
“We’re celebrating our timeless commitment to the legacy of the past 150 years,” Wollman told the crowd, noting Widener’s continued emphasis on leadership and character development rooted in its time as a military institution that for decades was housed wholly in Old Main.
After its founding in Delaware in 1821, the then-Pennsylvania Military Academy (later college) was formed in West Chester in 1862, moving to temporary quarters in Chester in 1866. The cornerstone of the domed Old Main, overlooking Chester on a hill, was laid in 1867, opening in 1868.
The building will serve as a museum over homecoming weekend with historic photos and a recreated cadet dorm room, open for public viewing on Friday and on Saturday morning.
“Old Main is an important part of Chester history, past, present and future,” said Guleke, opening his speech on the building place in Chester history. He recounted how the passing of Brig. Gen. Charles Hyatt – a member of the dynastic family that led PMC for nearly a century – in 1930 brought the sitting U.S. Vice President, governors, and members of Congress and the Senate to Old Main.
“He lied in state in Old Main under the dome,” said Guleke. “His casket was taken through Chester on a caisson, and the residents lined the streets to pass respect on the way to Chester Rural Cemetery.”
Along with bringing dignitaries to the growing industrial city, the sight of cadets drilling “beneath the dome of PMC” and marching out was part of daily life for East End residents. “On Sunday morning the cadets would march down Providence Avenue and split off to Third Presbyterian, St. Paul’s or wherever (they were attending religious services),” said Guleke.
The building held a special meaning as home to the cadets who would spend the four years of their collegiate life living,
“Old Main is an important part of Chester history, past, present and future.”
— David Guleke, co-founder and president of the Chester Historical Preservation Committee
studying and drilling there.
“Generations of boys have lived under the dome, studied their lessons, had their meals, and even had 15 minutes baths on Friday night,” said Romanowicz. “And yes, the baths were timed,” alluding to the strict discipline the Hyatt family imposed on cadet life.
“On May 26, 1968, my classmates and I received our diplomas with a great deal of pride and feeling of accomplishment,” said Romanowicz.” “And we knew we had learned those life lessons that were reflected in the slogan adopted by Charles Hyatt and hung in the assembly room: When wealth is lost, nothing is lost. When health is lost, something is lost. When character is lost, all is lost.”
Wollman pointed that aphorism as part of Old Main’s lasting impact on the institution, as it is now displayed in the school’s Oskin Leadership Institution, built by a donation from PMC alumnus and former Widener Board of Trustees Chairman, the late David Oskin, ‘64.
“(Those words) made an indelible mark on David Oskin during his years as a cadet at PMC, and they are still providing inspiration to the students, faculty and staff here today,” Wollman said.
Colin Ainsworth is a 2011 graduate of Widener University. His is a member of the Pennsylvania Military College Museum Committee and has financially contributed to the museum, whose funding is managed by Widener University.