FORT KENT, Maine — A Wallagrass native and University of Maine at Fort Kent alumni who spent her life as an educator has bequeathed the institution the largest financial gift in its history.
Officials at UMFK announced this week that the estate of the late Esther C. Labbee left the school more than $300,000. Labbee was a 1949 graduate of the former Madawaska Training School, a predecessor of UMFK, and the money will be used for scholarships for incoming students.
UMFK President Wilson G. Hess said Friday that Labbee had spoken to college officials about the donation prior to her death on Nov. 6, 2012.
“She was a very interesting woman and she had spoken to us on and off in the past to let us know that this would be coming,” he said. “Proceeds from her estate are still coming in, so the final amount is still to be determined.”
Campus officials said that the Labbee bequest represents a major boost to the UMFK Foundation’s $3 million fundraising goal for its La Cloche de Fer — or Iron Bell — campaign. The campaign is trying to raise the money for legacy scholarships, academics and capital improvements.
Specifically, the Labbee gift boosts the campaign’s goal of raising $750,000 to double the endowment of the Legacy Scholarship Fund.
After her graduation from UMFK, Labbee earned a master’s degree in education in California. She taught at the Buckley Elementary School in Manchester, Conn., for more than 25 years before retiring in 1984. She made her home in nearby Willington, Conn., before passing away last year at the age of 84.
Hess said that the UMFK Foundation has invested the bequest through the University of Maine System and it will be established as The Estate of Esther C. Labbee Memorial Scholarship to benefit the education of students enrolled at UMFK.
“I think that she had a strong sense of wanting to give back to others,” Hess said Friday. “She believed that coming from a small community, that she was given a chance, and she wants to give others a chance as well.”
Scholarships will be awarded annually from the fund under the direction of the president, or his designee, in consultation with the Office of Student Financial Aid.
Hess said that the college will begin accepting scholarship applications later this year and expects to hand the first one out next spring.