Michigan couple gives $3 million to BGSU student union

University names facility in their honor

A Plymouth, Michigan, couple has given $3 million to Bowling Green State University for a project underway to expand and renovate the University's Student Union. 

Robert M. and Ellen (Bowen) Thompson, both BGSU graduates, formally presented the gift to the University on Friday (Dec. 15) afternoon. 

The contribution is the largest ever received by the University, according to Marcia Latta, director of development at BGSU. The largest previous gift was a $2 million bequest for student scholarships from Lorain schoolteacher Harry V. Frankfather, a 1926 BGSU alumnus. 

"This gift from the Thompsons will impact every student at the University because the Union is used by everyone on campus," Latta said, adding that the gift also demonstrates the importance of private philanthropy. "Private dollars are crucial in helping the University achieve its goal of becoming the premiere learning community in Ohio and one of the best in the nation." 

Moments before Friday's announcement of the $3 million gift, the University's Board of Trustees voted to name the student union facility in honor of the Michigan couple. 

A 1955 graduate of the University, Robert Thompson is president and former sole-owner of Thompson-McCully Co. in Belleville, Mich. Ellen Thompson earned a bachelor's degree in education at Bowling Green in 1954. 

The benefactors have fond memories of BGSU and say their years at the University changed their lives. 

"My college education was a very pivotal time in my life," says Robert Thompson. 

"My mother," he recalled, "wanted me to have a college education to build my confidence." Although not a very serious student in high school, "I worked like crazy  (at BGSU) and my self-confidence did grow. I also met my wife. My college education was a life-altering experience." 

Ellen Thompson echoed her husband's sentiments. "It was a wonderful four years for my husband and me. It was a wonderful time to grow up." 

Of the couple's decision to contribute $3 million to the Student Union project, which is being financed by private donations and student fees, she said, "It just seemed this (gift) would increase our happiness and our happy memories of Bowling Green." 

In thanking the Thompsons for their gift, University President Sidney A. Ribeau praised them for demonstrating the very values the Bowling Green learning community seeks to instill in its current students. 

"As undergraduates here, Bob and Ellen were enriched by their experiences both in and out of the classroom, and they have gone on to be successful citizens who are active in their community. Their gift is meaningful not only because it will enrich student lives here at BGSU, but also because they set an example for our students by demonstrating the importance of giving something back to the community," Ribeau said. 

Both of the Thompsons were teachers when they started their successful asphalt business in 1959 with an uncle, Wilfred McCully. What began as a small paving company grew into a sizeable corporation that was sold last year to an Irish firm. At the time of the sale, the Thompsons turned over $128 million in profit sharing to their 550 employees as a reward for the their hard work and dedication. That act garnered news media attention and the Thompsons were later the subject of stories in People Magazine and on ABC-TV's "20/20." 

Yet even before the sale of their company, the Thompsons were giving back to the communities where they had prospered. Nearly 20 years ago they established the Robert and Ellen Bowen Thompson Scholarship at BGSU. The scholarship is given annually to six financially needy students who have at least a 2.8 grade point average and who are employed for at least 10 hours a week. They are also members of the Presidents Club, and Robert Thompson is on the board of the BGSU Foundation Inc.

With the help of their latest gift, the BGSU Student Union will double in size, to approximately 125,000 in net square footage. When the $33 million project is completed, the building will feature meetings rooms, an array of retail services, including the University Bookstore, a convenience store, post office, ATMs and banking services; more than a half-dozen lounge areas; a 250-seat movie theater/ auditorium; a food court; restaurant-coffeehouse; ballroom, and offices for student organizations and services. 

The Student Union was closed a year ago for renovation. The new Bowen­Thompson Student Union is expected to open in January of 2002. 

Updated: 04/26/2021 08:55AM