Northern Maine Community College unveils new wellness, student centers

10 years ago

    PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Just as NMCC has been exercising the minds of scholars for more than 50 years, a recently-completed addition to the college campus will help strengthen the bodies of students and community members alike.
A grand opening celebration was held last Wednesday at the Rodney Smith Wellness Center and the Akeley Student Center.
“This facility is not so much about exercise, but about wellness,” said NMCC President Timothy Crowley. “It’s about combining what we know about nutrition, health and exercise so that we have a healthy and more competitive workforce.
“Aroostook County has one of the oldest workforces in the country, and it’s important that we address the health, nutrition and exercise issues that face us if our workforce is going to be competitive,” he said. “Aroostook County is known for its work ethic; now we have to be known for our productivity.”
Support for the $6.4 million project was provided primarily from Mary Smith, a Presque Isle native whose husband, Rodney, passed away after achieving great success in the semi-conductor industry. Her gift prompted more donations to complete the work from foundations and private business donors in Aroostook County and beyond. To highlight the naming of the centers, Smith unveiled plaques commemorating her parents, Robert V. and Hope Greenlaw Akeley, and her late husband.
One plaque reads, “Northern Maine Community College will forever be indebted to a man we never knew. We honor Rodney Smith’s optimism, strength and work ethic which will be reflected in the purpose of this center. We are the grateful and unlikely recipients of his remarkable success story.”
The other is inscribed, “Northern Maine Community College honors Robert V. and Hope Greenlaw Akeley of Presque Isle for their unwavering commitment to family, education and civic responsibility. These values and their generous spirit, deeply rooted in their children, have changed our landscape and expanded our opportunities.”
“I was born here and I love it here, but my husband is the reason I’m able to do this. He pulled himself up from poverty to become a very successful person, and he believed in giving back,” said a visibly moved Smith following the unveiling. “He believed in physical fitness and health, so I was overwhelmed to see the plaques. I think the description on the plaque is just perfect.”
Smith said Rodney had visited Presque Isle on more than one occasion.
“He came back here with me before we were married, and then he came back for the coldest winter he ever experienced … 40 below. I used to come back far more often to check on my parents and be with them, but he did come with me quite frequently,” she said. “He loved it here. He’d go down to some hall on Main Street and play Snooker with my Dad. He loved to drink and watch football with him.
“Rodney and my parents are here now and they’re beaming,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier. This is good for the community, but this is very, very good for me. The purpose in life is giving back, and I’m very fortunate in many, many ways. I’ve been well loved, and that’s my purpose, and it feels good to give back.”
Smith’s philanthropic ventures are well known to the residents of the Star City as she previously supported the college with a $1.2 million gift that greatly advanced the school’s alternative energy program offerings. In addition, she also made possible the expansion of the city’s Mark and Emily Turner Memorial Library with a $1 million contribution.
“I first started being interested in doing something for NMCC, and met Tim [Crowley] and told him of my interest. I asked, ‘What have you got going?’ so we started with the alternative energy center, and that was a resounding success,” said Smith, who now resides in California. “I’ve always been concerned about the health of the community, so then I said, ‘What next?’ We looked at the physical fitness room which was a small room, and he said, ‘For so much money, we can fix this up.’ I said, ‘If you could have whatever you wanted, what would you do?’ Then this plan was developed.”
The construction for the new and renovated space got underway in December of 2012 by J.P. Martin and Sons Construction Corp. of Caribou.
“This venture has had a considerable economic impact over the last year and a half,” said Crowley. “But more importantly the purpose is to improve the health of the future workforce — our students — as well as the current workforce from the surrounding area that chooses to use this state-of-the-art wellness facility.
“We are also very pleased to be able to offer our students a large and inviting space to gather, study or wait for a class. The Akeley Student Center houses the Health Center, lounge, security office, and the new College Store complete with a snack bar,” he said. “We built a space at the College Store where we can provide food service out of this building which does two things for us. It puts food in this area, and people like to come together around food, and it also supports evening classes when people want a meal. If they want something to eat before they go to class, now we can generate food.”
Crowley said he’s looking forward to both students and the community embracing the new centers.
“Along with the students, we look forward to welcoming members of the community to these facilities for social interaction and wellness activities,” he said. “Very often people come together around food and group exercise, and we think this will be an area where the campus community will come together, and we’re hoping the community itself will use this space.”
Brian Hamel, past chair of the Maine Community College System’s board of trustees, praised the collaboration between Smith and the institution.
“When I was chair, NMCC was always looked at by the other campuses as the ones that set the example that everyone else was measured by. This center is a perfect example of that,” he said. “It takes a collaboration to get projects like this done. It takes a visionary and a catalyst like Mary Smith, who has the vision and the commitment to her home community here in northern Maine to make our community a better place. It takes partners to make that happen, and we have many partners in the room today from businesses and organizations and individual donors who made this happen. That’s really teamwork at its best and that’s what we’re best at in northern Maine.”
Robert Clark, current chair of the MCCS board of trustees, agreed.
“This is a great example of what can happen when the private sector meets with the public sector; great things can happen such as this,” said Clark. “I’ve been to all seven of the college campuses, and this is by far the most exciting and excellent facility of them all. When I came to school here in 1973, the only lounge area we had was the front seat of my Volkswagen Beetle, so the college has come a long, long way, and I think we have a lot of opportunity in front of us to meet the needs of the employers and workforce in the area.”
While the centers are officially open, there are two components waiting to be completed.
“We have designated information areas in the center and our plan is to display artifacts that represent the history of the Air Force, the former Presque Isle Air Base, and the Army in Presque Isle in these spaces,” said Crowley. “Those displays are under construction, and we expect that we’ll see them in 4-6 weeks.
“The landscaping part of this project will begin today. We took down 47 trees when we started this work, and beginning today we will plant 52 trees,” he said. “We will run a line of spruce and fir trees around the front of the campus and the centers, so it will really enhance the appearance and will reduce the wind.”
A healthy breakfast was served last Wednesday to those in attendance. The grand opening also included tours of the facility, vendors from athletic and wellness-related businesses, and door prizes.
Smith teased that she’s not finished giving to the Star City yet.
“I have to see what comes up. I’m very particular in what I do, and I don’t entertain solicitations. I’ll probably sit down and think about what I want to do next,” she said. “There could be more to follow.”