ORONO, Maine — Victor and Marjorie Woodbrey had one big dream for their children they raised on the shores of Sebago Lake — that all of them would attend college.
That was a tall order for a big family in the 1930s and ’40s, but the Woodbreys not only achieved that goal, they began a legacy of commitment to higher education and the University of Maine that is continuing well into the 21st century. In all, 27 members of the family, including spouses, have graduated from or are attending the University of Maine, according to a family history written by youngest son, James Woodbrey.
The family was honored Saturday with the Fogler Legacy Award from the University of Maine Alumni Association.
The award is presented occasionally to a family with a strong tradition of attending the university with at least three generations of graduates. At least two of the family members must have a record of outstanding service to their alma mater, the alumni association, their community and/or their professions. It was last given in 2012 to the Wheeler family.
Henry “Hank” Woodbrey, a dentist in Orono for many years, accepted the award on behalf of the family and his three surviving siblings.
“This honors my mother and my father, who left school after the fifth grade to work in the woods,” he said. “As far as he was concerned, there was only one college in Maine for us, because it was affordable, and that was the University of Maine.”
One place where the Woodbrey family made its presence felt was on the baseball diamond. Between 1941 and 1956, five Woodbrey brothers played for the Black Bears. Cecil Woodbrey, Class of 1941, Edward Woodbrey, Class of 1949, Victor Woodbrey, Class of 1952, Henry Woodbrey, Class of 1953, and James Woodbrey, Class of 1956, all lettered in baseball.
Victor Woodbrey was named Yankee All-Conference pitcher in 1949 and 1950. He turned down offers to play professionally from the Boston Red Sox and the Atlanta Braves. He went on to coach high school baseball and basketball. Victor Woodbrey was inducted into the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame in 1985.
His brother, Edward Woodbrey, was a longtime scout for the Baltimore Orioles and the San Francisco Giants. A memorial scholarship fund in his honor was set up after his death in 1983 to assist needy baseball players at the university.
Cecil Woodbrey was in the first class to received a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics. He later went into the insurance industry. Edward Woodbrey successfully ran Lowell Lumber for many years. James Woodbrey earned his degree in chemistry and spent decades working for Monsanto Corp. in St. Louis.
Their sister, Eva Woodbrey, graduated from the University of Maine in 1943 with a degree in business administration. She later became a lawyer and worked in the Manhattan Public Defender’s Office. Mabelle Woodbrey was attending the university when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. She died at the age of 21 before graduating.
Herbert Woodbrey took over the family Chevrolet dealership after attending Springfield College. Elizabeth Woodbrey graduated from the University of Maine at Farmington and taught home economics at Old Orchard Beach High School.
Seven members of the next generation of Woodbreys graduated from the university. They entered fields ranging from business to education to software systems engineering. Ben Woodbrey, part of the third generation to attend UMaine is due to graduate in 2017.
Other alumni honored Saturday were: Kenneth C. Norton, Class of 1980, who received the Bernard Lown Alumni Humanitarian Award for his dedication to providing and improving social services for marginalized members of society; attorney Sherri L Mitchell, Class of 2008, who received the Spirit of Maine Achievement Award for her work as a civil rights lawyer for American Indians and indigenous people; Kurt R. Marston, Class of 1974, who received the Pine Tree Emblem Alumni Service Award for his work with the alumni association; and Dr. Robert F. LaPrade, Class of 1981, for his work as an orthopedic surgeon in sports medicine.