One Man, Many Missions

Wickham Skinner at his home in St. George -- photo by Jim DuganWickham “Wick” Skinner grew up in Cincinnati, but he has ties to Maine that run deep. His best friend from childhood had a summer home on Mount Desert Island, and young Wick was often invited out for a few weeks to enjoy the special pleasures of sailing on Somes Sound, picking berries, and going for hikes and picnics.

Those memories of Maine stayed with Skinner as he served in the Army Engineering Corps and worked on the Manhattan Project, moved on to Honeywell, and finally became a professor at the Harvard Business School (where he also served as associate dean of the MBA program). When he retired in 1984, he and his wife Alice moved into the home they had built on a quiet cove on the St. George peninsula.

The cove might be quiet, but Skinner’s retirement has been anything but. “I’ve had two or three major things going at all times,” he says with a steady gleam in his eyes.

Skinner didn’t just join local and state organizations. If he was interested in their mission, he would become a trustee and, as likely as not, end up in a leadership position. He served as board president of the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland (and proudly holds the title of president emeritus of an art institution he feels is contributing greatly to the midcoast region). He also became chair of the Natural Resources Council of Maine board and vice chair of the board of the University of Maine System.

Skinner’s philanthropy comes from these connections. “Board activities get you very interested in the work being done; you see the good things happening, and the mistakes,” he explains.

For a time, Skinner and his wife Alice focused their giving on the Farnsworth, the NRCM, education, a few women’s groups, and organizations supporting the philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg, founder of the church in which Alice was raised.

Then a good friend suggested Skinner look into establishing a donor-advised fund with the Maine Community Foundation. “I liked the idea of having a fund which inevitably has a prudent level of spending every year,” he says. Together, he and Alice created the Mainstream Fund.

Although Skinner continues to support his and his late wife’s diverse interests, today about half of his grants go to Many Flags/One Campus, an educational initiative centered in Rockland. The idea of this innovative program is to combine classrooms for middle, high, and technical schools with those of a community college and a university on a single campus, so that students can pursue an array of interests, but always on an appropriate level.

While intrigued by this new educational construct, Skinner wants to make sure the experimentation extends to the classroom. To that end, he is funding an effort that makes materials and time available to individual teachers so they can explore new teaching methods. “You can change a campus physically in many ways, but unless you change the classroom, it won’t do much good,” Skinner says.

Skinner brings commitment to his passions -- and he thinks big. Education, the environment, the arts: he gives where it counts.