The long-held dream of a student center at Williamson came closer to fruition with a groundbreaking ceremony for the Joseph L. and Marion M. Wesley Student Center on June 5.
When completed in January 2023, the Wesley Student Center will be a focal point in the center of the Williamson campus and will have three full basketball courts, an elevated track, a large weightroom, esport room, a lounge, game room, and meeting rooms for clubs and activities.
The magnificent addition to the campus was made possible by a generous gift of $20 million from the Joseph and Marion Wesley Family Foundation.
Opening the groundbreaking ceremony, President Michael Rounds said “This is a special day in the history of Williamson as we do the groundbreaking for the Wesley Student Center.”
He explained that for several years discussions were held on the importance of student life at Williamson since students spend such a great deal of time on campus.
“We saw that students need a place to do the things that young men do, such as play sports, workout, and bond with their classmates. The Restall Sports Center is not large enough for the size of our student body and after varsity athletes use it there isn’t a lot of time left for other student use.”
He said the ideas they considered, such as expanding the Restall Sports Center or putting in a Butler Building, were modest because taking care of other needs across campus didn’t leave a lot of money. “The building we were thinking of wouldn’t have been anything great and we would have hidden it behind the Restall building because it wouldn’t have been much to look at. Then a guy named Joe Wesley came into our lives just a few years ago.”
Rounds said Wesley invited him and William Bonenberger 7W9, board chairman, to lunch and they talked about their ideas for what they wanted for the school. “We told him of our wish for a student activity center and he looked at us and said, ‘That is important. I’m willing to give you between $5-20 million to make that happen.’ I think my jaw hit the table and so did Bill’s. We walked out saying, Did you actually hear that? Did that really happen? We were so energized.”
Rounds said Wesley believes in doing things right and he encourages you to get out of your comfort zone. “He wanted to know what we really needed, not just enough to get by. We told him we wanted something of high quality, something we could be proud of, something he would be proud to put his name on. And so, the idea of a Butler Building hidden behind the Restall Sports Center became the Wesley Student Center, an amazing complex that will be the focal point in the center of our campus.”
Rounds explained to the audience, limited in size because of COVID restrictions, some details about Joseph Wesley. He began working when he was 15, married Marion, his wife of 67 years in his late teens, and enlisted in the Marine Corps. While serving in the military, he learned how to operate cranes and heavy equipment. When he got out of the military, with hard work, good fortune, and the support of Marion, in 1967 he founded AmQuip Corp. in Bensalem, Pa., a crane rental company and built it into one of the largest crane rental companies in the world, which he sold in 2007.
Rounds said, “You can see that Joe and our founder, Isaiah Williamson, have many traits in common. He came from humble beginnings, started a business, worked hard, grew his company, and obtained much worldly success. But, as his wealth grew, he knew what was important was making a difference and giving back, just like Mr. Williamson did in founding this school. He founded the Joseph and Marion Wesley Family Foundation and focused on educational organizations.”
Through a contact of trustee Michael Piotrowicz, a campus tour was arranged and after visiting the shops he was impressed with what he saw.
Rounds said Wesley was very impressed with the students and, also, being patriotic, liked that the young men salute the flag every morning and say the Pledge of Allegiance. He liked that Williamson stresses giving back to others using God-given talents. “I think he saw something very special here, something he wanted to invest in. We are very fortunate to have Joe and Marion as our friends. We can never thank them enough for their gift to Williamson.”
In his remarks, William Bonenberger 7W9, board chairman, said “This is an example that miracles really happen at Williamson. The Wesleys are a miracle. I’ve been on Williamson’s board since the early 2000s and I can’t remember when there was as much excitement as there is today. I want to thank Joe and Marion Wesley for this transformational philanthropy.”
Participating in the groundbreaking ceremony were: Andrew Williams 2W3, president of the freshman class; Mark Specht 7W7, chaplain; Thomas Moffitt, vice president of student affairs; Dale Plummer, director of athletics; Corey Jackson 0W3, vice president of operations; William Bonenberger 7W9, chairman of the board of trustees; Joseph and Marion Wesley, whose generous gift made the center possible; President Michael Rounds; Michael Bonacci 9W8, project superintendent with W.S. Cumby Construction, the builders who will construct the student center; and Robert Reid, associate principal of Spiezle Architectural Group, designers of the student center.
When it was known that a student center was going to be built, Spiezle representatives met with the Wesleys, students, faculty, alumni, and other stakeholders about how the building should feel, function, and the final specifications.
Construction will be well underway this summer.