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Widney Society honors USC’s million-dollar donors

by Annette Moore
USC President C. L. Max Nikias reflected on Judge Widney’s role as the chief architect of the university during his speech at the Widney Society gala on Nov. 1. (Photo/Dietmar Quistorf)
USC President C. L. Max Nikias reflected on Judge Widney’s role as the chief architect of the university during his speech at the Widney Society gala on Nov. 1. (Photo/Dietmar Quistorf)

On the eve of the founding of USC, Judge Robert Maclay Widney assembled a small council of leaders and shared his vision for the great university they would establish on the American frontier. They pledged to nurture and support the fledgling university and worked together to set a bold course for its future. Their vision, leadership and steadfast support have inspired Trojans for 132 years.

Today, USC has reached yet another extraordinary moment in its history. As The Campaign for the University of Southern California seeks to raise $6 billion or more in private philanthropy to advance its academic priorities and expand its positive impact on the community and the world, USC’s leaders again will play a key role in helping the university fulfill its potential.

In the inspirational spirit of Judge Widney, USC has set in motion a new tradition to honor its leadership supporters by establishing a donor recognition society in his name. Benefactors who have donated $1 million or more in gifts or pledges to the university will be inducted into the Widney Society, recognizing their extraordinary generosity and foresight in creating an enduring legacy for the future at USC.

The inaugural gathering of the Widney Society on Nov. 1 brought together some 350 donors and guests. The gala dinner took place, fittingly, outside Widney Alumni House, the university’s original building, with a program celebrating the five attributes of the ideal Trojan, inscribed on the Trojan Shrine — faithful, scholarly, skillful, courageous and ambitious — as well as a special performance by Gladys Knight.

Another highlight of the evening was the unveiling of a commemorative book that will contain signatures of all Widney Society members. The book will be kept in the archives of Doheny Memorial Library, and new members will have the opportunity to add their signatures at special events in the years ahead.

In his remarks, USC President C. L. Max Nikias reflected on Widney’s role as the chief architect not only of the university but also of Los Angeles, which was a city of just 10,000 people when USC was founded in 1880. Widney was responsible for making sure that the Southern Pacific Railroad ran through the city, and for organizing its first chamber of commerce and its first light and power company.

Nikias also told the story of a day when, not long before Widney’s death in 1929, his daughter took her father on an automobile tour of the city he had helped build, ending their journey at the University Park Campus.

Nikias related: “Robert Maclay Widney turned to his daughter Frances and said: ‘All my life, I have been telling people about the incredible future of Los Angeles. But in my wildest dreams, I never conceived anything as wonderful as this university!’

“For each of us,” Nikias exhorted the gathering, “let us make it our ambition to do more together for USC than we thought possible.”

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