March 18, 2019
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Presque Isle native donates $5 million to Maine Winter Sports Center’s new start

Photo courtesy of Maine Winter Sports Center
Photo courtesy of Maine Winter Sports Center
Maine Winter Sports Center leads a ski lesson in December 2011 at the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle.

To kick off Maine Winter Sports Center’s $20 million endowment campaign, which will enable its world-class outdoor sports programs to continue for years to come, Presque Isle native Mary Barton Akeley Smith recently gave a $2 million gift to the center. She’s also promised an additional $3 million gift in matching funds, according to an announcement made by the center Monday morning.

To receive the additional $3 million, the center must raise an equal amount of funds through other means. Fully matched, Smith’s gift will represent $8 million in endowment contribution.

“The size of this gift certainly caught me by surprise,” said Andy Shepard, president and CEO of the center. “But at the same time, it reflects Mary’s commitment to making sure Maine Winter Sports Center survives in a way that will hopefully inspire other people to also give.”

Headquartered in Caribou, Maine Winter Sports Center is a nonprofit organization that was established in 1999 and has since captured media attention by training 15 Olympic athletes and hosting the state’s first World Cup Biathlon in 2004. In addition, MWSC recreation programs have reached 140 communities throughout Maine, engaging thousands of people in year-round outdoor activities.

This donation comes a year after the MWSC’s future seemed uncertain. In February 2014, the Libra Foundation announced it was ending its financial relationship with the the center. The foundation had been a principal source of funding for the center for its first 15 years of operation, contributing nearly two-thirds of the center’s $885,000 annual budget.

The center immediately launched a $1.4 million campaign so they could continue operations beyond April and have the time to develop a more sustainable and diversified funding model to move forward. Smith stepped forward then as well, offering a $500,000 matching gift that kicked off the successful campaign.

Smith, a Presque Isle native who now lives in California, has a track record of contributing to northern Maine communities. Her late husband, Rodney Smith, came from modest means in England to achieve great success in the electronics industry in California’s Silicon Valley, according to a previous BDN story. He died in 2007 after being hit by a vehicle while riding his bike.

In a statement Mary Smith read when she made a $1.2 million gift to the Northern Maine Community College in January 2011, she said of her late husband, “Rodney was a philanthropist who believed very strongly in giving to those less fortunate who were working to better their lives and those of their families and communities. He also respected greatly the fact that I loved the area of northern Maine where my roots are.”

Mary Smith also donated $5 million to Northern Maine Community College in 2012 for the construction of new fitness and student centers on campus.

Additionally, she donated $1.3 million to the Presque Isle library to expand the library’s catalogue, add more computers and make the facility more accessible in 2010. And in 2014, she donated $1 million to expand the library and make renovations that would make the building especially appealing to children and teens.

Her most recent gifts to MWSC will enable the center to run their world-class outdoor recreation and competition programs for years to come with the new refined mission of “empowering Maine to build an active, outdoor future through world-class resources and challenge-based programs,” according to their mission statement.

Currently, the the center has two fundraising efforts running simultaneously.

The first is reaching out to Maine’s foundations and corporations to support operations over the next three years. The campaign will give the center a bridge to its endowment-driven long-term sustainability.

“That outreach is looking to Maine foundations and best-in-class Maine companies like L.L. Bean and Emera Maine,” Shepard said. “Without L.L. Bean and Emera Maine, we wouldn’t have gotten to this point. … We need to identify other Maine companies out there like those that want to be a part of Maine Winter Sports Center’s sustainability.”

The second campaign — to generate the $20 million endowment — will ensure the center’s long-term sustainability and is officially kicking off today.

“What the endowment does, it takes having to survive year after year off the table,” Shepard said. “It allows us to focus on our programming and making a difference and makes it viable for us to raise the money we need each year.”

“The endowment campaign will engage the help of individuals and organizations that share the MWSC’s commitment to a healthier Maine and to the effective stewardship of our remarkable natural resources, which serve as the classroom for MWSC’s programming,” said Dick Trafton, chairman of the center’s board, in a prepared statement.

For information about MWSC and the endowment campaign, visit

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