After retiring as founding president of College of the Atlantic, Edward Kaelber went on to found the Maine Community Foundation in 1983. Along with Marion Kane (1945-2012), he set out to attract leaders from across the state to join in this ambitious endeavor. Starting with a $10 gift from New York businessman Robert Blum, they created an enduring source of charitable giving for the state of Maine. Kaelber turns 94 in May. We caught up with him in March at the Colonnades in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he moved last year. This interview incorporates parts of Donna Gold’s oral history of Ed Kaelber conducted in 2004. Photo Carl Little

When you started the foundation, you were looking for representation from across the state.

Yes, we wanted to have people from all corners of Maine on the board. Sherry Huber made an awfully good point, I think, when I first talked to her about the foundation. What excited her was that a statewide foundation drawing trustees, which it would, from all areas of the state, was a way to help draw the state together. What you have to do with a community foundation board is you have to rotate it, and you have to have a broad representation of geographical and professional interest in the state. It just can’t be kind of the old boy network that hangs together forever and ever.

Do you remember Don Collins?

Oh, yes, Susan’s father. He was an early board director. We wanted to get him on the board, and [Bangor businessman] Herb Sargent said, “I know Don.” So he said, “Why don’t we fly up to Caribou and see Don?” And Don said yes.

How did funds come to the foundation?


Marion Spurling who lived on Little Cranberry set up the first scholarship fund at the foundation. She was an elementary school teacher. She and her friend Barbara Higgins came to see me. They had heard about the community foundation and had read Mr. [Russell] Wiggins’ column about it [in The Ellsworth American]. They said they’d like to set up a fund. I thought they might contribute a $100, but I didn’t let on. Then they said they would speak to their financial advisors in Boston. It ended up being something like $100,000.

How did you meet King Cummings?

I was invited to give the commencement address at Carrabasset Valley Academy in Kingfield and King Cummings was there. He said something like, “Would you like to be on the board of the Carrabasset Valley Academy,” and I said something like, “Well, I’ll do that if you join the board of the Maine Community Foundation.” We were just trying to start. King was an entrepreneur and he liked the idea of starting something new. So he came on. He also set up a half-million-dollar fund.

What kind of grants did you make in the beginning?

Well, I think the very first grant we made – I think this is right – was to the Eastern Maine Medical Center, which had a program in which people, poor people, can have dialysis treatments for free. A lot of the people came from Downeast and up in The County, and their relatives would drive them down there, and the hospital provided free food, lunches, I think that was it, for these people. Well, the hospital fell on hard times and decided they couldn’t provide lunches for these people who drove down. So we made a grant to the hospital on some kind of a matching basis. That was one of the early grants we made. I remember getting grant proposals from small organizations. They didn’t write anything fancy, but they knew what they needed. They didn’t know about writing proposals, but they did their best. What really came across: there’s a real need here.

This summer the foundation is receiving a Sunbeam Award from the Maine Seacoast Mission in honor of its county fund program. Do you remember how the program came about?

We had these plans. One was that you wanted to be sure that you treated various areas of state, geographical areas, and you also treated a broad range of needs within each area. That’s one of the reasons that we set up the county funds. You know, an Aroostook fund, a Washington County Fund, a Knox County Fund, Piscataquis County Fund, and so forth. I think [the county program] was Marion Kane’s idea. She was the sparkplug behind it. It brings people in and gets them involved [with the foundation].

How did the foundation grow?


Well, partly it was word of mouth. The other thing we did is we talked to various groups in New York, and also in Boston and Maine. We talked to groups of estate lawyers, you know, writing wills, the thought being, a lot of those people direct their clients. The client says, “Yes, I want to help the state of Maine, I’ve got some money, what’s the best way to do it?” And the estate lawyer can say, “Well, here’s an option.” So that was one way. Now, it’s word of mouth. The Maine Community Foundation is known. And people who have been setting up funds talk to their friends and say, “This is something maybe you want to think about.”

Do you ever look back and think about the impact that you’ve had?

I like to think in one way or another I’ve helped a lot of people, and I feel good about that. I think I’ve helped the state of Maine. But when I say “I,” I have to put that in context: I mean it was me and the people I was able to get to join me. None of it could I have done alone.