Allen Bonnell, CCP's first chief

Posted: July 28, 2013

Allen T. Bonnell, 101, a champion of open access to higher education who created Community College of Philadelphia and guided it through its infancy, died Saturday, July 20, at White Horse Village, a retirement community in Newtown Square.

As founding president of CCP for 18 years, Dr. Bonnell was able to act on his belief that higher education should be available to everyone.

In the 1950s, he led an extensive research project that ultimately spawned Community College.

Pennsylvania became the 44th state to create a community college system in August 1963. Two years later, the first board of trustees chose Dr. Bonnell to lead the school. He retired Aug. 31, 1983, and was named president emeritus in 1993.

"Thanks to Dr. Bonnell's vision and determination, the college has since served more than 630,000 people," the school said in a statement.

The college opened with 1,200 students on Sept. 23, 1965. There to greet them was Dr. Bonnell, amid the bang of hammers and clouds of construction dust in the converted N. Snellenburg & Co. department store at 11th and Market Streets.

Under his leadership, the college grew. By fall 1967, enrollment reached nearly 5,000, said school publicist Earnestine Young.

In 1971, Dr. Bonnell secured the historic U.S. Mint building to anchor the college's main campus at 1700 Spring Garden St.

By the time Dr. Bonnell retired in 1983 at age 72, programs had grown from five to 52. "The college had achieved national recognition for its multifaceted approach to addressing the educational needs of academically disadvantaged students," Young said.

Josie DiGregorio, executive assistant to all five of the college's presidents, said Dr. Bonnell held a special place in her heart. She recalled him as "an intellectual but at the same time a very humble individual."

DiGregorio attended Dr. Bonnell's 100th birthday party in April 2012 and spoke with him in recent months. "His body was failing, but his mind was still sharp as ever," DiGregorio said.

The college now offers 90 degree and certificate programs with an annual enrollment of 40,000 students at its main campus and three regional centers in Northeast, Northwest, and West Philadelphia.

In recognition of Dr. Bonnell's service, the college named a building on the main campus after him. It also gives the annual Bonnell Award to a student who demonstrates exemplary community service and a commitment to access and opportunity for all.

Born and raised in Erie, Dr. Bonnell received his bachelor of arts and master of arts degrees from Oberlin College. He attended the University of Bonn in Germany and earned a doctorate in economics from the University of Illinois in 1937.

He received an honorary doctors of letters degree from Drexel University in 1969.

He taught at the University of Illinois, St. Louis University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Bonnell served in France as a volunteer relief administrator with the American Friends Service Committee. After six years with several Washington agencies and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, he joined Drexel Institute of Technology, now Drexel University, in 1948 as a vice president.

In 1963, Dr. Bonnell was appointed vice president and provost at Drexel. He left in 1965 to lead the nascent Community College.

He was in on the creation of another institution, too.

In the early 1950s, Dr. Bonnell was one of a small group, under the leadership of W. Laurence LePage, president of the Franklin Institute, that obtained the original charter for the Metropolitan Educational Radio & Television Corp. He served as a member of the board of directors for the corporation and its eventual successor, WHYY Inc.

Dr. Bonnell formerly lived in Wallingford with his wife, Dorothy Haworth Bonnell. An author of books for young adults, she died in 1999 at age 84.

Surviving are sons Thomas H. and David W.; a daughter, Ann Maiocco; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. A son died earlier.

A memorial service will be later.

Condolences to the family may be offered at www.ccp.edu/site/about/allen-bonnell.php.


Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8102 or bcook@phillynews.com.

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