Wi­dener marks 150 years of his­tory at Old Main

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - By Colin Ainsworth Spe­cial to the Times

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.

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