PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A celebration of success and a commitment toward an even brighter future took place at Northern Maine Community College Saturday evening, as approximately 400 people attended a gala to mark the institution’s 50th anniversary and recognize its most outstanding alumni.
The 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner and Silent Auction, which was held in the campus gymnasium, brought together college officials, alumni, family and friends for both a celebration and a fundraiser. The evening of dinner, dancing and celebrating the college’s rich heritage was held at the end of a three-day fete that took a year in planning.
College officials said they saw a good crowd at the events leading up the gala, which included an open house, a bazaar, barbecue, music and more.
On Saturday evening, the college honored 50 alumni as “shining stars” who collectively represented the array of academic programs from the past and present and who have made an impact on the world around them over the past five decades.
The college was founded on June 17, 1961, when Maine Gov. John H. Reed, an Aroostook County native from Fort Fairfield, signed a bill into law that established the institute in the deactivated buildings of the missile base in Presque Isle.
One of the 50 stars recognized was Robert Grant, a Falmouth man who parlayed a 1969 degree in radio and TV repair into a career as a general manager at a successful South Portland furniture store.
Grant, who is employed at Young’s Furniture, started at the school when much of the classes were in the old military base buildings. The degree he received has now been absorbed into another program, but Grant said that the education he received at the institution has only allowed him to flourish.
Grant, who grew up in Houlton, said on Saturday evening that he chose to attend what was then Northern Maine Vocational Technical Institute for a number of factors.
“It was affordable and convenient, and my family couldn’t afford to send me to school very far away,” he said. “Plus, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life at that point.”
Grant joined the U.S. Navy and worked at Dunn Furniture Co. in Houlton before working at Young’s.
“I went there [Young’s] and I told myself that I had a five-year plan,” he said. “I was going to do something else after five years. That was three decades ago. I’m still there, and I have a great job.”
Grant was “flattered and pretty embarrassed’ when he was named a shining star and people came to the furniture store to take a picture of him for the program.
“They were all ribbing me pretty hard, wanting to know what was going on,” he said.
Grant said that the focus, work ethic and academic skills he honed at the college have contributed to his success. He said on Saturday evening that his teachers and the staff at the college pushed him enough so that he recognized the skills that he had and learned how to use them to accomplish the goals that he set.
The 50 stars represented success in a number of fields, from trades and technology to agriculture and medicine. They included William Cassidy of Raymond, a 1970 graduate who is the retired president of Washington County Community College, and Galen Dickinson of Caribou, the chief financial officer at Cary Medical Center. The medical field was well represented, with one star being Diane Gough Pratt of Chapman, who graduated in 1978 and is a nurse in the cardiovascular lab at The Aroostook Medical Center. Dr. Leigh Forbush of Hampden, who graduated in 1994, is now a physician at Family Practice in Bangor and Hampden.
A number of the stars are still living and working in Aroostook County.
Each honoree was presented with a special star award designed and crafted by Dennis Albert, NMCC welding and metal fabrications instructor, and his students. During the gala, a poster featuring a photo of each of the 50 stars was unveiled. The posters will be hung throughout the corridors on the campus.
Proceeds from the evening will benefit the NMCC Foundation, which provides scholarship and other assistance to students attending the institution and also funds instructional technology and other purchases for the college annually. Funds raised through the silent auction, coordinated by the NMCC Alumni and Friends Organization, will go toward future activity hosted by that organization.