There is something about Maine that grabs people. I certainly see it in lifetime Mainers, but that spark of Maine fire can be particularly exciting in newcomers. Many people choose to retire in Maine, but today’s story tells of a man who chose Maine instead of retirement.
Rather than retire last summer at age 65, Bill Trumble moved to Maine and took the job of senior vice president of academic affairs at Unity College.
Bill grew up in Washington state. Over the last 40 years, he has studied and worked in schools in Texas, Idaho, New Jersey, New Hampshire and upstate New York, to name a few.
I met with Bill in his office, part of a college building that used to be a chicken coop, and asked him about his new job at Unity College.
“I’ve been in a lot of institutions,” he said. “This one is the best ever!”
Bill is a lifetime lover of the outdoors and an avid believer in responsible environmental stewardship. A bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a doctorate in medical physiology have deeply informed his understanding of the natural environment, but Bill’s greatest inspirations come from outside the classroom walls. He has spent time outdoors all his life, including annual wilderness trips that take him all over the world.
“Wilderness is the only place where you can really get your mind right,” Bill said.
Unity College’s work to educate people about that essential connection between humans and their natural environment fits exactly with Bill’s philosophy.
“So much of what we teach here is important to the country and to the planet,” he said.
The second thing that Bill loves about his new job stems from the fact that his arrival coincided with several other newcomers to Unity’s team, including President Steve Mulkey. As a result, there is a refreshing openness to creativity and innovation.
“No one says, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ Nothing is taboo; no new thought is off limits when it comes to thinking about how to make Unity a better, more attractive school for environmentalists.”
You might have read about one of Bill’s unusual ideas in a Bangor Daily News story last November. In order to get to know Unity students in a new way, Bill spent a week as a resident in one of the college dorms. By all reports, it was an enlightening experience for both students and administrator (although the administrator had a longer recovery time).
As I toured Unity College’s campus with both Bill and admissions officer Diane Laliberte (and my exuberant dog, who was graciously welcomed along), I began to catch the contagion of their enthusiasm. There is Unity House, the president’s home — a building so energy efficient that its power usage meter runs backwards. There is TerraHaus, a 10-person dorm that reportedly is the only passive energy certified building on a college campus in the country. There is artwork everywhere, a vibrant greenhouse, science labs, gymnasium, student center, library that doubles as the town library (“not many college libraries have a children’s room”), and off in the distance, a couple of skaters shoveling snow off Unity’s new pond.
There is so much more to Unity College than I realized, and with the energy of new leadership, I get the feeling that there will be a lot more to come. Bill talked about Unity’s commitment to keeping students actively engaged in their fields — both figuratively and literally. Every student does some kind of outdoor experience, completes an internship, and receives direct employment counseling all along the way.
But what really lights up Bill’s face is his vision for the work that Unity College can do: graduate programs, international partners, spreading the word of Unity’s mission. Nothing is off the table. Knowing it is his “last job” inspires Bill to pursue what he believes in without compromise, and he believes that he is in exactly the right place to do so.
“The environment needs attention. Twenty-three national academies of science agree that climate change is happening; it is real; it is caused by man. Ten years from now, we’ll look back and ask ourselves, ‘Did we do anything when we had the chance?’ We want to leave the Earth in as good or better shape than we got it.”
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback and suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.