PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — When what is now Northern Maine Community College was first established five decades ago, no one could have foreseen that it would become such a powerful educational and economic engine.
Tim Crowley, president of the college, said Friday that 50 percent of NMCC graduates stay to work in Aroostook County. Ninety-five percent of them find jobs in Maine. The college has become “the work force arm of The County,” Crowley said during a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of NMCC. But he also told the crowd of more than 100 people that none of that would have been possible without a number of County legislators.
During a two-hour ceremony at the college, which was attended by current and former lawmakers, NMCC presidents and staff members, as well as students and alumni, legislators who served Aroostook in the past half-century were recognized by college leaders.
“Without the support of these legislators, we wouldn’t be here,” Crowley said Friday. “This institution wouldn’t be here, and the 8,000 people who have graduated from this institution wouldn’t be working in the economy today.”
Former Gov. John Reed, a Fort Fairfield native, signed the bill into law that created NMCC on June 17, 1961. Crowley said that area lawmakers have advocated for the college ever since, and the campus reflects that. Several buildings are named after prominent elected officials from the region, including the Reed Dining Commons, named after former Gov. John Reed; Snow Hall, for former state Sen. Paris J. Snow; Christie Hall, for former state Rep. Augusta K. Christie; Edmunds Building, for former state Sen. E. Perrin Edmunds; and the Martin Building, for former House Speaker and long-serving Aroostook lawmaker John L. Martin.
But it was two County men, former state Sen. Floyd L. Harding and former state Rep. Harold L. ‘Bud’ Stewart, both of Presque Isle, who took center stage at NMCC Friday afternoon. Both were recognized for their outstanding efforts 50 years ago in ensuring the creation of NMCC.
Stewart, who represented Presque Isle in the Legislature during the 1961-62 session, was a key supporter of the bill to create a vocational school in Aroostook County.
Harding was one of the key members of a committee of local citizens working to develop a vocational school in Presque Isle on the site of the former Army Air Base. The vision of the group was to use vacated military facilities to serve as learning spaces for the various trades and barracks to house residential students.
Although not a member of the Legislature at the time, Harding’s community activism toward this and other endeavors led him to run successfully for the state Senate in 1964. He represented central Aroostook County in that body in the 1965-66 legislative session, as well as in the 1967-68 and 1971-72 sessions.
Both Stewart and Harding are considered among the “founders” of NMCC and continued to support the institution throughout their time in elected office and afterward.
“Floyd and Bud are both advocates for education, and we owe them a heartfelt thank you for what they have done for this college,” Crowley told the crowd. “It is our privilege to take what you created and build it to make a difference in the lives of people in The County. I hope what you are seeing here is what you envisioned when you crafted the legislation to put this in place.”
The duo received a standing ovation when college officials unveiled bronze plaques recognizing their contributions that will hang in the Edmunds Building near a similar plaque honoring the late Sen. E. Perrin Edmunds.
Both men brushed off the attention, but Harding said he was delighted with what the college had become and pleased that he played a part in helping get it started.
“We weren’t great men, but we did a great thing,” he told the crowd.
Friday’s special luncheon also marked the 25th anniversary of the founding of Leaders Encouraging Aroostook Development, an economic development organization made up of County business leaders and community volunteers. The college served as the base of operations for LEAD when it was first established. Over the years, LEAD has worked with other groups to lure businesses to the County and keep them here, while also laboring to curb the out-migration of youth from the region. Just in the last year, LEAD has spoken out against taxes detrimental to County businesses and supported Maine Department of Transportation projects. The organization also has pushed to have federal funding stream into the state to be used for crucial repairs to 233 miles of railroad track in northern Maine. LEAD also was instrumental in promoting the recent biathlons in Presque Isle and Fort Kent.