NEW SWEDEN, Maine — For his 23 years on earth, Matthew Turnbull had a well-earned reputation for always, in his own words, “Livin’ the dream.”
Now, a year and a half after he was killed in a tragic car accident in 2012, the scholarship project started in his memory at Northern Maine Community College has become that campus’ most successful scholarship fundraiser in history.
This spring his parents donated $10,500 to the scholarship fund — proceeds raised from a benefit dance and silent auction at the Caribou Inn and Convention Center.
Last year a similar event also raised $10,000 for the scholarship.
His parents can’t think of a better way to honor the memory of their son.
“It’s a struggle dealing with the loss every day, but working on something that was
important to our son is helpful,” said Lynn Turnbull, Matthew’s mother. “Matthew loved his time at NMCC [and] it’s where he found his niche, so our family is thrilled to have the opportunity to help students who are moving along the same career path as Matthew.”
Matthew Turnbull grew up on his family’s New Sweden dairy farm and for as long as his parents could remember, was always involved in its day-to-day operations.
“Here we are on a farm [and] there was always something going on and Matthew wanted to be involved,” his father, Alan Turnbull, said. “He was really good at it [and] able to see and think ahead on what was needed and where to help.”
No matter the project, Alan Turnbull said, his son made it fun, even if it was something he was not all that fond of doing.
“He hated painting,” Alan Turnbull recalled. “The summer we painted the house we would stand on that staging painting and singing.”
Everyone who met Matthew wanted to be his friend, Lynn Turnbull said.
“He was just such a pleasure to be around,” she said. “He was fun, funny, and he loved his good friends and being with us.”
All that ended on Nov. 8, 2012, what Lynn Turnbull refers to as “the worst day.”
Matthew Turnbull had just taken a new job and was on his way to work during one of the season’s first snowstorms. The roads were icy and Turnbull’s vehicle struck another head-on.
Once the initial shock wore off, his parents and siblings — older brothers Joshua and Seth and his sister Sarah — knew they wanted to do something to keep his memory alive.
The response, Lynn Turnbull said, has been overwhelming.
“It’s been crazy,” she said. “When we first started talking about it, people came forward that wanted to be in on it and everyone wanted to help.”
Among them were the members of local band Common Cross, for whom Matthew was an unofficial “roadie.”
“Two years in a row now we have had [Northern Maine Community College’s] most successful fundraising event,” Lynn Turnbull said.
Enough money has been raised to endow two $500 scholarships that the Turnbulls hope will help young people just like their son, who earned his associate degree in applied science in addition to certifications in welding and commercial truck driving at NMCC.
“Scholarships like this would have been life-changing for a kid like Matthew,” Alan Turnbull said. “So it made sense to help other kids out.”
The Livin’ the Dream scholarship became endowed after the first fundraiser was held
just over a year ago and is now awarded to two students enrolled in a Trade and
Technical Occupations program who demonstrate financial need. One is designated for a student from Caribou High School and the other for a student from anywhere in Aroostook County.
It is the family’s hope to one day have the endowment grow enough to offer two students scholarships to cover a full year’s tuition.
“We’re very grateful to the Turnbull family, who are turning their tragedy into
opportunities for struggling students,” said Bruce Sandstrom, NMCC Foundation chair.
“Their generosity is a wonderful example of how to put enduring love to work.”
“We’d like the recipients to know about Matthew and that he had such a passion for life,” Lynn Turnbull said. “He knew how to have fun but he had a really strong work ethic, too.”
There are so many memories of their son, it’s hard for his parents to choose a favorite, but they both remember a strong and feisty high school wrestler.
“He had this move he called ‘the explosion,’” Lynn Turnbull said. “Matthew was tall and lean, and he’d wrap himself around his opponent like a pretzel and then explode off.”
“Livin’ the dream” was Matthew Turnbull’s catchphrase, according to his parents.
“He’d come in the door and I’d ask him how he was doing,” Alan Turnbull recalled. “Good day or bad day, he’d say, ‘I’m livin’ the dream, Dad.’”
Other times, his mother said, he’d respond, “I’m a hummingbird in God’s pocket.”
Not far from the family home, a circular rock garden with a sundial, flowers and stone bench with a colorful hummingbird engraved on it is a reminder of that young man and his outlook on life.
Donations can be made to the Livin’ the Dream Scholarship fund through the NMCC
Foundation at https://my.nmcc.edu/ICS/Foundation/.