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Looking Back to Look Ahead

Sonny Dowdy is a Wilson College of Textiles alumnus whose estate gift and annual gifts will benefit NC State University Libraries — and inspire other gift-makers — for many years to come.

Sonny Dowdy has been a loyal NC State supporter for many years. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in textile chemistry in 1974, but his affinity for the university goes far beyond just the Wilson College of Textiles.

Thanks to various extracurricular activities Dowdy participated in during his time on campus, he left NC State as a well-rounded graduate with an appreciation for all things Wolfpack.

The NC State University Libraries is particularly near and dear to Dowdy’s heart, a result of his love for reading books about World War II. His decades of generosity to the Libraries have provided students, faculty and staff with the resources they needed and enabled others to learn about an important period in world history.

Now, through a gift via his estate and NC State Day of Giving, Dowdy’s impact on the Libraries will continue far into the future.

Looking Back

Dowdy was born in Durham and raised by parents who instilled in him a love for education. Neither had graduated from high school, so Dowdy’s father made a special point of helping his son play with wooden alphabet blocks and of bringing a wide assortment of books into the home.

Steinbeck and Hemingway were a bit too advanced for young Dowdy, “but the encyclopedias were a gold mine,” he said. “Because of them, I was able to start reading before I entered elementary school.”

Dowdy’s father not only helped him learn to read but also inspired what he read. The elder Dowdy served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and stories of his time in uniform captured the imagination of his son. The latter developed a deep and abiding interest in what his father and his brothers-in-arms had endured and accomplished in service of their nation.

Dowdy entered junior high as the Space Race was heating up in the 1950s. Fueled by his father’s war stories and by various rocket launches being shown on television, he planned to enlist in the U.S. Air Force or become an astronaut following his graduation from high school. Medical issues, however, prevented those dreams from ever getting off the ground.

There was suddenly no clear path forward.

“If I remember correctly, everyone had to meet with the school guidance counselor during their senior year,” Dowdy said. “She asked me what I wanted to do and, being the completely unprepared person that I was, I told her that I didn’t have any idea. However, I did like chemistry and math.”

The counselor then presented Dowdy with a brochure detailing NC State’s textile chemistry program and explained how he could pair those two passions.

“I didn’t even know what textile chemistry was, but I said, ‘Why not?’ That turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made!“ Dowdy said.

Dowdy continued to be an avid reader of World War II literature while attending NC State thanks to the Libraries, but he also explored and developed other hobbies. His interest in collecting old radios, for instance, led him to work for student-run WKNC, which, in turn, led him to take a computer class one summer in order to stay on campus and continue helping with the station. That class led Dowdy to take even more computer classes, and a love for computer programming was born.

With the OPEC oil crisis of 1973-74 hampering the textile industry as his graduation date approached, and with his newfound passions for radio and computers, Dowdy decided to transition away from textile chemistry after leaving NC State. He worked for several radio stations during and after college, as well as a television station.

Eventually, Dowdy joined AFP Technology and worked in the field of scientific and semiconductor equipment analysis and sales for 26 years. He transitioned to cloud-based business solution provider Bottomline Technologies and retired from that company 20 years later.

Dowdy credits his time at NC State with preparing him for all of these extraordinary opportunities.

“When I left NC State, I was a much different person than I was upon arriving as a freshman,” Dowdy said. “NC State is where I learned how to learn, how to listen and take notes, and how to do basic research. I learned how to do things that led me to two careers.”

Along the way, Dowdy met his wife, Linda, whose father was also a World War II veteran. The couple, who will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary later this year, have generously supported NC State together throughout their marriage. Especially the NC State University Libraries.

“I am happy being where I am today, living life with my best friend and being in a position where I can support the Libraries, which supported me so long ago,” Dowdy said.

Looking Ahead

Giving back to the Libraries has been a major part of the Dowdys’ lives, but they intend to continue their support far into the future as well. One way they aim to do that is through a gift from their estate that they documented on NC State Day of Giving 2022.

“When Linda’s parents passed away, we had been so pleased at how a previous endowment we had created had progressed that we wanted to investigate starting a new endowment to honor both sets of our parents,” Dowdy said. “Since both of our fathers had served in World War II, we considered that to be a very important time in history.”

Working with the executive director of development and the senior vice provost and director of Libraries, the Dowdys learned about Day of Giving and began the process of creating the World War II – Causes to Conflict to Conclusion Endowment.

“If you might wonder about the endowment’s name, there were many things that happened at the end of World War I that led to the start of World War II,” Dowdy said. “Additionally, there were things that happened after the final surrender in 1945 that were associated with World War II. The endowment basically covers the period from the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 to the Treaty of San Francisco in 1952.”

In addition to investing in the endowment through their estate, the Dowdys are also making annual gifts on NC State Day of Giving with the goal to have the endowment fully funded by 2025. Through their estate gift and annual gifts, the Dowdys are ensuring that countless others will be able to study the Libraries’ ever-growing collection of materials on World War II and develop a deep appreciation for the Greatest Generation and all that it accomplished.

“Today, the NC State University Libraries is quite unlike what it was in 1970, with fantastic new technology and so many additional programs available to students,” Dowdy said. “I’m glad that we can play a small part in making the Libraries better through our donations, and we hope this endowment can be used to provide useful information for the students and historians of the future.

“If there is an area of NC State that you particularly care for, why not make a donation to help make it even better?” Dowdy added. “Talk with someone to see if there are any existing endowments that are targeted to things you find important. If not, look into starting your own.”

This story originally appeared on

This post was originally published in Giving News.