Harold Alfond’s name is on some of the biggest and most iconic buildings in the state of Maine.
But he quietly helped put children through college, too.
He gave away millions to large universities.
And he would occasionally walk into the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA building in Waterville and hand over a $100 bill so the staff could pick up some T-shirts for needy kids.
Alfond was a part owner of the Boston Red Sox, one of the most popular professional sports franchises in the country. He also helped build youth centers, including the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville.
Mainers lost one of their biggest supporters when Alfond died of cancer on Nov. 16 at the age of 93, but their choice of Alfond’s death as the Bangor Daily News/WZON Sports Story of the Year showed the impact he had in the state and beyond.
Alfond’s death garnered 208 of the 566 votes (36.7 percent) cast primarily through an online poll.
Another Story of the Year contender with University of Maine connections, the return of former Black Bear star basketball player Cindy Blodgett to coach the UMaine women, finished as the second-highest vote-getter with 25.6 percent.
The dominance of Bangor High sports, including five Class A state titles in track, swimming and basketball, finished third with 15.5 percent, followed closely by the story of the contributions made by former Portland Sea Dogs players to the Boston Red Sox’s World Series championship.
Brewer High’s first ice hockey state title took fifth place.
Although Alfond’s death made big news, it was his life that left the greatest impact.
A Swampscott, Mass., native born during the Great Depression, Alfond went from a low-level employee at a Kennebunk shoe company to owning Dexter Shoe Co., which at its peak employed nearly 4,000 people with annual sales exceeding $250 million. Alfond sold the company in 1993 for more than $400 million.
He gave away millions, too – more than $6 million to the University of Maine alone.
“I think people look fondly on their own, especially those who came from very modest backgrounds and became very successful, and that utilized their earnings to do good things for the people of the state in return,” said Old Town resident Stu Haskell, a former University of Maine athletic director. “I think that would be the best way to describe the fondness people have for him.”
Alfond’s largesse went far beyond the realm of sports, however, which may be why his story touched so many voters.
He supported community centers, colleges and universities, hospitals, charities and cultural institutions. On Dec. 12, the Harold Alfond Foundation announced it would start the Harold Alfond College Challenge, which would eventually extend a $500 gift to every infant born in Maine if the child’s parents or guardian opens a specific type of college savings account in the child’s first year.
It is expected, according to a previous NEWS story, that when the program expands from a pilot project in 2008 to a statewide program in 2009, that more than 14,000 babies will receive a combined total of $7 million.
“He was so excited about that,” said Ken Walsh, the chief executive officer of the Boys and Girls Club and YMCA at the Alfond Youth Center in Waterville.
Walsh spoke to Alfond three months ago about the College Challenge.
“He said, ‘Wait until you see this one.’ … That’s something that just blows people away, his long-term vision,” Walsh said.
Another non-athletics project, MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care in Augusta, opened in July 2007.
“[Athletics] was just one tiny, tiny bit of what he was all about,” University of Maine coach Jack Cosgrove said. “He was not just a man who supported athletics. His hospital, his appreciation for the arts, the different boys and girls centers throughout the state. He had a way of extending himself to all aspects of life, particularly around children and youth.”
Athletics, however, seem to be the area in which Alfond was most visible.
His name is on the University of Maine’s Harold Alfond Sports Arena, home of UMaine’s two-time national men’s ice hockey champions, as well as the women’s hockey and men’s and women’s basketball teams.
A statue of Alfond stands in the entryway to the Harold Alfond Sports Stadium, home field for the Black Bear football and field hockey teams. He donated money to the construction of the Mahaney Clubhouse, which houses the UMaine baseball team and is named after Larry Mahaney, another name linked to the university.
This fall, Alfond told the University of Maine he would match any amount of money the school raised for the football program through December. Earlier this month, Maine announced it had received a $1 million gift from Phillip and Susan Morse, which will go towards updating the artificial surface at Alfond Stadium.
Cosgrove said Alfond also provided the football team with one of its finest moments this fall, when he attended a Sept. 22 home game against the University of Massachusetts. Alfond, who was in poor health, was driven in a golf cart by his son, Ted, down to the field where he gave the Black Bears a pep talk and they returned the favor with a signed No. 1 jersey.
A photo of the moment recently arrived at the football coach’s office.
“It was wonderful, to see the pictures and look at him and Ted,” Cosgrove said. “He’s holding the jersey with a huge smile on his face. It was a pretty special moment for him and this team. … I know the impact he had on our program here. It’s no secret that I think his generosity and support of Maine football saved the program with the building of the stadium and his support over the years.”
In fact, Alfond seemed to show up all over the country wherever the Bears were playing. Haskell recalled Alfond bringing groups of friends to a football playoff games and national championship games in hockey.
“He would show up at the most unusual times,” Haskell said. “You wouldn’t expect him to be there and he was. Whenever he thought it would be a terrific game to watch, he’d come.”
Cosgrove recalled a game at UMass before which Alfond performed the ceremonial coin toss because of his contributions to that university’s business management school. After the coin flip, Alfond came over to Cosgrove and wished the UMaine coach good luck.
He teamed up with longtime friend and former University of Maine baseball coach John Winkin to fund the Harold Alfond Diamond at the John Winkin Baseball Complex at Husson College in Bangor.
Facilities at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Colby and Thomas colleges in Waterville, Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, Goodwill-Hinckley School, Kents Hill School and the University of New England in Biddeford are among the institutions that were Alfond’s beneficiaries.
Alfond also made contributions to Boston College for its football training facility and to Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., where baseball games are held at the Alfond Stadium and the field house is called the Harold & Ted Alfond Sports Center.
Alfond also built an 18-hole golf course in Belgrade, where he summered with his family for decades.
He was inducted into four Halls of Fame, won numerous national awards and received honorary doctoral degrees from Colby, Thomas, Maine, Saint Joseph’s and Rollins, despite the fact that he never went to college.
Still, children and sports seemed to make him happiest. Walsh said last June, two weeks after the birth of his first son, Alfond called him and asked Walsh to meet him in the Alfond Youth Center parking lot.
Once Walsh got outside, Alfond rolled down the window of his car and handed Walsh a baseball. Alfond said he wanted to give Walsh’s son his first baseball.
“He was incredibly special,” Walsh said.