BREWER, Maine — This summer’s rainy beginning and the national economic downturn have been bad news for the hotel business, but that hasn’t stopped Danny and Carla Lafayette of Hampden from pledging $2 million to CancerCare of Maine. Theirs is the largest contribution to the two-year, $9.5 million Champion the Cure fund-raiser for the new 132,000-square-foot cancer treatment and research facility nearing completion on Whiting Hill.
“This is far and away the largest gift to the campaign,” said campaign chairman Brad Coffey. While there are other significant contributions under discussion, he said, the largest donation to date other than the Lafayettes’ has been $500,000.
The Lafayettes own a total of 27 hotels in three states. In Maine, Lafayette Hotel properties include the Best Western Black Bear Inn & Conference Center in Orono, the Bar Harbor Hotel and Bluenose Inn in Bar Harbor, the Best Western Senator Inn and Spa in Augusta and the Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland.
The gift was announced Friday at the newly named Lafayette Family Cancer Center, which will house Eastern Maine Medical Center’s outpatient cancer program as well as the laboratories and offices of the Maine Institute for Human Genetics and Health.
Danny Lafayette, who serves on the board of Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems — the corporate parent of EMMC and of the research institute — and on the fundraising campaign committee, said the gift will be fulfilled over the next 12 years, through corporate donations, employee contributions and local fundraisers.
“The more people you have involved, the more energy you create to do what we need to do here, which is to have a world-class cancer center,” he said. Should these efforts fail to meet the entire pledge, he added, the couple’s estate will donate the balance upon their deaths.
Already, portions of the Lafayette’s pledge have been raised through events ranging from one employee’s benefit yard sale in Waterville to a high-end celebrity chef dinner at the Bluenose Inn in Bar Harbor. In addition, the family’s Best Western White House Inn in Bangor sponsors the annual 5-kilometer Run for Hope — for-merly known as the Terry Fox Run — which will direct its proceeds each year toward the $2 million pledge.
Lafayette said the decision to contribute so generously to the campaign reflects the large number of Mainers affected by cancer. Maine has among the highest cancer rates in the nation, he noted, including many of his employees and business associates and their families.
Close to home, the Lafayette’s 23-year-old son Ramsey was diagnosed with melanoma — a potentially deadly form of skin cancer — when he was 18. Now a junior at Harvard University, the younger Lafayette, a graduate of Hampden Academy, has undergone treatment in Maine and Massachusetts for his cancer and is healthy, his mother said. But their son’s battle helped shape their commitment to cancer treatment and research.
“We decided we didn’t want to wake up in the morning looking in the mirror thinking we didn’t at least try to help him,” Danny Lafayette said. He referenced a recent report in the magazine Men’s Health identifying Bangor as the eighth most dangerous city for contracting melanoma.
Half of the $2 million Lafayette family gift will be used to establish an investment fund, with earnings directed to melanoma research. The other $1 million will be used to help foot the bill for the $42 million cancer center.
Champion the Cure chairman Coffey said there remains about $1.8 million to raise to meet the campaign’s total $9.5 million target.
Danny and Carla Lafayette said they are investing in Bangor’s future as a cancer treatment and research center, citing the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., as an example.
“People fly there from all over the world to get saved,” Danny Lafayette said. “It’s a very small community, not much bigger than the Bangor-Brewer area, and there are 40,000 people working in health care. We think that could be done in Maine.”