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Widow donates $5 million to Northern Maine Community College

Jen Lynds | BDN
Jen Lynds | BDN
Tim Crowley, president of Northern Maine Community College, gestures toward a PowerPoint presentation on Wednesday, February 8, 2012, as the college announced a $5 million private donation to the college from Mary Barton Akeley Smith, a Presque Isle native.
By Jen Lynds, BDN Staff

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A historic $5 million donation to Northern Maine Community College from a Presque Isle native who already has made significant contributions to the college and community is going to have a “transformative impact” on NMCC, according to college officials.

The most recent donation from Mary Barton Akeley Smith, announced during a press conference Wednesday morning, will be used to fund a $6 million renovation of two NMCC facilities.

“This really is a historic moment for the college,” Tim Crowley, NMCC president, said Wednesday. “This is going to provide for a very significant change that will be here long after we are gone.”

Smith is a California resident who last year bestowed a $1.2 million gift on NMCC that greatly advanced its alternative energy program offerings. She also contributed $1 million to help expand the Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library in Presque Isle.

Her new $5 million gift will provide the bulk of the $6 million needed to renovate and repurpose two existing facilities at NMCC. The 9,000-square-foot building that now houses the college dining commons on the north end of campus will be transformed into the Rodney Smith Center for Fitness and Occupational Wellness in honor of the donor’s late husband. The 14,000-square-foot facility that is now the college gymnasium and sits in the center of the campus will become the Akeley Student Center in honor of Mary Smith’s parents and family.

“Words cannot express our profound gratitude,” Vicki Smith, the chairwoman of the NMCC Foundation and who is not related to Mary Smith, said Wednesday, adding that the impact of the donation on the campus and the community “cannot be overstated.”

The college and the NMCC Foundation will provide the $1 million match for the gift with private and grant funds.

Crowley said that architects already have submitted design plans and the college is set to make a selection in the coming weeks. A concept committee has been created which consists of NMCC staff, foundation board members, a local doctor and Mary Smith. Mary Smith plans to come to Presque Isle soon to help kick off the project.

Crowley said the intent is to complete both construction projects over the next 12 to 15 months.

During the press conference, Crowley emphasized the importance of the new wellness center in teaching students how to become healthy and vital employees and maintain good health for life.

Right now, the college has a 600-square-foot fitness center with a few weights in it. The new center will be larger and better equipped.

“Employees want workers who will be productive and competitive,” the president said. “Our college already teaches occupational safety and wellness, and this new center will help emphasize overall wellness and health and nutrition.”

The long-term impact will be that the center will create a healthier and more competitive work force for The County, Crowley added.

The Akeley Student Center, to be created in the space now occupied by the college gymnasium, will house the new Reed Dining Commons, a student lounge, college bookstore, space for student organizations, student counseling, continuing education, and campus safety and security. Crowley said that the move will provide a central gathering spot for all students. A second story will be added to the facility to increase the usable square footage without increasing the building footprint.

The college is looking for another gymnasium for student-athletes to use while the gym is being renovated.

Crowley said that without Mary Smith’s contributions, the projects would not have been possible.

“The work that will be undertaken on our campus as a result of this very generous gift by Mrs. Smith will have a transformative impact on our service to students and the community,” he said. “We are pleased that Mrs. Smith shares our vision and commitment to the people of Aroostook County, and we are excited about having an opportunity to take a portion of our long-range plan for NMCC and bring it to life.”

Smith’s husband, Rodney Smith, was a self-made man and philanthropist who achieved great success in California’s Silicon Valley. A native of England, he overcame an impoverished youth and other odds to achieve extraordinary success in the United States as a businessman and pioneer in the semiconductor industry.

The naming of the Akeley Student Center will reflect the contributions to the Aroostook County community by the Akeley family, which includes Smith’s parents, Robert V. Akeley and Hope Greenlaw Akeley.

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