PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Rodney Smith was just 67 when he was killed in an accident in 2007, and although he had accomplished much in six decades, he still left dreams unfulfilled.
On Thursday, the wife of the late former CEO of an electronics design organization assured that her husband will continue to make dreams come true for generations to come.
During an emotional ceremony at Northern Maine Community College, approximately 70 people came together to officially dedicate the Northern Maine Center for Excellence in Alternative Energy Training and Education. The facility was made possible thanks to a $1.2 million donation from California resident and Presque Isle native Mary Smith, who bestowed the gift in honor of her late husband.
The donation was one of the largest private contributions ever given to a community college in Maine and the largest to date to an Aroostook County higher education institution, according to NMCC officials.
The facility, located a short distance from the NMCC campus in the Skyway Industrial Park in Presque Isle, features both classroom and laboratory space for students in the building technology programs at the college. Newly purchased equipment in the center will provide for experiential learning opportunities in various alternative energy resources including wind, solar and biomass.
The new facility will allow for expansion of NMCC’s wind power technology program. The college worked to develop the new center inside the recently renovated 7,800-square-foot building. It formerly was used by the Presque Isle Public Works Department.
In concert with NMCC officials, the ceremony was attended by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a number of County legislators and economic development officials, and board members from the NMCC Foundation.
Tim Crowley, president of NMCC, pegged the event as a historic moment for the college. He thanked Smith for the donation, which he said would propel the college forward in the alternative energy field and open doors for students for years to come. Michaud agreed.
“The connection between green energy and job creation is clear,” he said. “But the new center here at NMCC will do more than lead to job creation — it will strengthen educational opportunities across the entire region.”
He credited Rodney Smith with overcoming a number of obstacles in his life. Smith rose above an impoverished youth to achieve extraordinary success in the United States as a businessman and pioneer in the semiconductor industry. He was hired by the founders of the Altera Corp. to serve as the company’s first CEO and led the company for two decades before retiring in 2001. Six years after retiring, he was bicycling when struck from behind and killed by an 87-year-old motorist.
Michaud said Mary Smith’s “unprecedented and generous gift” would give “so many students a shot at fulfilling their own American Dream.”
Mary Smith talked at length during the ceremony, choking back sobs as she spoke of her late husband’s life and legacy. She said her husband always believed in giving back to his community and pushed for personal excellence while encouraging others to do the same.
“I have been interested in making a donation to NMCC for some time,” she said. “I can now happily say that I’ve done it.”
Benjamin Dutil, a student in the college’s wind power technology program, also spoke at the ceremony. He will be one of the first graduates of the program next month and has already secured a job.
“This new facility will allow students to work hands on with more sophisticated equipment,” he said. “It also will allow them to use new tools and equipment to prepare them for success when they get into the job market.”
“Today marks a very important day for those in this room and for students who will come through these doors in the future,” he continued.
The ceremony ended with a ribbon cutting and a tour of the new facility led by NMCC students.