Piscataquis County grant writer takes Marshall Islands job

Posted Dec. 23, 2009, at 8:06 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:07 p.m.

DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A Greenville man whose ability to win grants helped pump millions of dollars into Piscataquis County’s economy over the past two years is leaving to help another rural area far from Maine.

Ken Woodbury Jr., the county’s community development specialist, will begin his new job as president of the College of the Marshall Islands on Jan. 18, 2010. His contract is for three years but it can be extended.

“I’m going from white snow to white sand, from snowmobiling to snorkeling,” Woodbury said Tuesday during an interview.

Woodbury said there is a certain similarity between rural Piscataquis County, which is surrounded by woods, and the rural Marshall Islands, which are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean.

“We’re surrounded by forests and we kind of look inward; we look to our own communities for support and recreation and culture, and so do they,” Woodbury said. “You learn up here to become very self-sufficient and there, they also need to be self-sufficient. There’s certainly a difference in climate and culture, but in sense of community, caring for each other, the communities are very similar.”

The man with the Midas touch realized $5,765,387 for Piscataquis County communities with still another five grant applications pending. During his two-year tenure, he applied for 46 grants of which 80.5 percent were funded.

In Greenville, where Woodbury helped secure funding for the Natural Resources Education project and the Junction Wharf project, town officials said they are sorry to see him leave.

“I honestly don’t believe we would have [received] those monies if Ken hadn’t written those grants for us,” John Simko, Greenville’s town manager and president of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, said Wednesday. “I have no idea how we’re going to be able to replace him. He’s been a tremendous asset to Piscataquis County.”

The county and the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council received a grant to fund Woodbury’s position, and there are two years remaining on the grant.

“We will replace him. We’ll find somebody but those are big shoes to fill,” Simko said.

Woodbury said he hadn’t been looking for a new position because he loved his job as a development specialist. His prior career was spent in education including serving as president of Harrisburg Area Community College in Harrisburg, Pa.

Woodbury said he was contacted by the Association of Community College Trustees in Washington, D.C., a firm retained by the College of the Marshall Islands, and was asked if he would be interested in the president’s job. “The kinds of things that I have done in the past, they thought, were the kind of things that the college was looking for,” he said.

The intrigue of the new challenges prompted Woodbury to apply for the position. Invited to visit during Thanksgiving week, Woodbury toured the campus and met with college officials. Soon afterward, he was offered a contract, which he accepted. The contract at the land grant college can be extended since the college is look-ing for a four- to five-year commitment, Woodbury said.

Rather than continue importing presidents, Woodbury said his job will be to help prepare the college for Marshallese leadership. While English is the official language, Marshallese is used by the government in the Micronesian nation of atolls and islands. The republic has a special relationship with the United States, a compact in which the U.S. guarantees a certain amount of money to it annually, according to Woodbury.

Since the College of the Marshall Islands is a land grant college, it’s very much involved with the economic development of the country, Woodbury said. Another of his challenges will be to help the two-year institution expand to offer four-year degrees in nursing and education, he noted.

While Woodbury said he was looking forward to his new duties, he will miss Piscataquis County.

“For me, it’s really been a pleasure and a privilege to work in Piscataquis County,” Woodbury said. He said his home is in Greenville and he hopes to return when his assignment is completed. “I’m looking forward to new challenges but I will miss the continued opportunity to help the communities in Piscataquis County.”

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