A chance meeting at BGSU more than 65 years ago set Bob and Ellen (Bowen) Thompson on a path of love, entrepreneurship and life-changing philanthropy.
Bob and Ellen (Bowen) Thompson, future Falcon Flames, met for the first time at a BGSU fraternity-sorority mixer. Ellen was a member of Gamma Phi Beta, while Bob was a member of Sigma Nu and also involved in the Arnold Air Society and football.
Ellen Bowen graduated from BGSU with a degree in education. She was also active in the Swan Club and the Key yearbook staff.
Bob finished his education degree a year after Ellen, and the couple married soon after and both went into teaching. Bob also served as a pilot in the Air Force during the Korean War.
After Bob's military service, the couple started a family and established a paving business – the beginning of their entrepreneurial journey. They founded and grew several businesses, always with an orientation of giving back to their employees and to their communities.
Bob and Ellen established their first scholarship fund in support of BGSU students. It covered 50 percent of recipients’ tuition and fees for juniors who demonstrated financial need, met academic requirements and also were employed by the University. Their scholarship support would grow over the next 40 years to eventually impact nearly 1,100 students.
The Thompsons presented a $3 million gift to the University to be used for the construction of a new student union. At the time, it was the largest gift in the University’s history. The building was named in their honor, and the Bowen-Thompson Student Union serves as a hub for student activity at BGSU.
Bob and Ellen established the Thompson Scholarship in the Sidney A. Ribeau President’s Leadership Academy for students from the Detroit area who show academic promise. In addition to their studies, students in the program must work and perform community service.
The Thompsons 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.
BGSU presented both Bob and Ellen with honorary degrees as a symbol of great appreciation for their commitment to serving students. A few years later, they were honored as two of BGSU's 100 most prominent alumni.
Bob and Ellen created an additional scholarship fund at BGSU to provide financial assistance to promising students from working class families to help them complete their degree with reduced student debt. Reinforcing work ethic and helping others, recipients of the Thompson Working Families Scholarship must also have employment and do community service.
The Thompsons were presented with BGSU’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the University’s highest honor, in gratitude of their long-term, exceptional support. In addition to scholarships for working families, their support also includes a scholarship fund for BGSU military students.
Bob and Ellen made an additional gift to expand their scholarship programs, with a goal to nearly double the number of recipients within the next few years. In recognition of their transformational impact, the historic heart of campus was named in their honor. The Bowen-Thompson Quadrangle is nestled between University Hall and the Seal.
The Thompsons made the single-largest gift in the University’s history with $27 million in additional support for student scholarships. This history-making gift will allow the University to make immediate and significant strides in its efforts to make a BSGU education accessible and affordable for more students for years to come.
Archived photo pre-dates COVID.
Of all the things that good luck has allowed us to do for BGSU, we have received much more than we ever gave.Robert ’55, ’06 (Hon.) and