Changing Lives for the World

On Sept. 30, 2016, nearly 150 guests gathered to honor Robert ’55, ‘06 (Hon.) and Ellen ’54, ’06 (Hon.) Thompson in the very building named in the couple’s honor. The University’s first Lifetime Achievement Award was given to the Thompsons in recognition of their commitment to their alma mater and to the future of BGSU.

“How perfect to celebrate the Thompsons’ vision, generosity and kindness in the Bowen-Thompson Student Union,” said President Mary Ellen Mazey as she detailed the couple’s remarkable dedication to student success. “They serve as an example on how philanthropy at BGSU can change lives.”


Bob has said that BGSU changed his life because he met his Falcon Flame, Ellen, at a fraternity – sorority mixer while they were students here a generation ago. Ellen was a member of Gamma Phi Beta, the Swan Club and the Key yearbook staff. Bob was a member of Sigma Nu and the Arnold Air Society and was involved with football. After Ellen graduated with her degree in education in 1954 and Bob with his degree in education in 1955, they married and worked as teachers. Bob served as a pilot with the U.S. Air Force before the couple started a family and a paving business. Bob was a leader in the paving industry and received national honors for his work. When they sold the business in 1999, the Thompsons were nationally recognized for the strong business ethic and commitment to those who had worked with them.

The couple also wanted to share their good fortune with their alma mater. They were interested in helping students and made their first gift to BGSU for scholarships. Then, in December 2000, Bob and Ellen presented another gift to the University to be used for the construction of a new student union. It was the largest gift in the University’s history and allowed a complete transformation to create a campus home for BGSU students. In 2006, the University presented both with honorary degrees as a symbol of great appreciation for their commitment to serving students.

Today, the Bowen-Thompson Student Union continues to serve as the hub for student activity at BGSU. With contemporary design, warm and welcoming spaces, plenty of natural light, student organization offices, and a popular food court, the Union is always busy with student activity.

“The Bowen-Thompson Student Union is the heart of campus,” Undergraduate Student Government President Amanda Dortch said. “You can find students here any time of the day or night – eating, studying, meeting, grabbing a cup of coffee or, now, visiting the new Career Center, or shopping at the new Falcon Outfitters.”

The Thompsons also served as honorary co-chairs of the University’s first capital campaign – the Building Dreams Centennial Campaign – which raised more than $146 million for scholarships, professorships and facilities. They set the tone for a successful campaign when they established the Thompson Scholarships in the Sidney A. Ribeau President’s Leadership Academy (PLA.)

The Thompson Scholars in the PLA are students from the Detroit area who show academic promise. With the motto, “Eyes forward, feet on the ground,” students are encouraged to aim high and make a daily effort to achieve their goals. In addition to their studies and leadership efforts, each student must work and do community service.

“Being a Thompson Scholar has opened my eyes to the world, and I cannot express how thankful I am. I realize all that is given to me every day and whenever I can, I give back by volunteering my time to other people,” said Kaela Murray. Ellen Thompson meets with the students on a regular basis and each is also required to update her on his or her educational progress. These letters, which express gratitude and hope, share personal triumphs and professional accomplishments. The Thompsons follow each student from freshman year to graduation, earning them an honorary grandparent title from many of the scholars.

“If I could scream ‘thank you!’ from the top of the world, I would! You have changed my life and I thank you so much for all the assistance, love and compassion you share with me and all of the Thompson Scholars,” said Kyle Smith, a Thompson Scholar and the Black Student Union vice president. “The Thompsons take a personal interest in all of the PLA Thompson Scholars,” said Jacob Clemens, assistant dean of students and PLA director. “Their support extends far beyond the comprehensive scholarship to providing mentoring, care and compassion to help each of the scholars succeed. Their holistic vision of scholarship assistance has allowed students to succeed and graduate at unparalleled levels.”

In 2014, the Thompsons created yet another scholarship fund at Bowling Green State University. Designed to help students from working class families, the scholarships provide support to those who would not be able to attend college without assistance. As with the scholarship students in the President’s Leadership Academy, each recipient must do community service.

“Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to become someone who can make a change in the world, and allowing me to follow my dreams and succeed at a great university,” said Kristy Brooks, a Thompson Working Families Scholarship recipient.

“Business leaders. Community supporters. Education enthusiasts. Falcon Flames. I am thankful to Bob and Ellen Thompson for their continued commitment to the University and for their support of students,” said President Mazey. “They are truly worthy of the University’s first Lifetime Achievement Award as they have touched so many lives with their selfless and generous acts. BGSU is a better place because of them.”

Updated: 07/10/2020 03:28PM