An Uncommon Philanthropist with the Common Touch

 

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“He had a pretty close personal relationship with four Colby presidents,” said current President William Adams. “We spent time together on the golf course, time at his camp. He would periodically come by my camp on Great Pond. ... The first time I ever played golf with him was at the Belgrade Lakes course. You could tell he was sizing me up. He parred the first hole and I bogeyed it, and when he went to pick up his ball he looked at me and said, ‘You want to play for money?’”

Alfond used to tell friends and family that he would not retire “until at least 10 years after I’m dead,” according to his obituary. And, having committed nearly all of his fortune to the Harold Alfond Foundation to fund charitable causes in Maine, his good works will continue a lot longer than that.

Born in Swampscott, Mass., in 1914, Alfond was a shoe-shop worker en route to the Skowhegan Fair in 1939 when a hitchhiker he picked up told him a factory was for sale in Norridgewock. A year later, using proceeds from the sale of his car, Alfond and his father bought the plant for $1,000 and launched Norrwock Shoe Company. In four years Norrwock had more than $4 million in sales. Sensing the market was ripe, and eager to provide for his father’s retirement, Alfond sold Norrwock for $1.1 million in 1944 but remained as president until 1969.

“He had a pretty close personal relationship with four Colby presidents. ... The first time I ever played golf with him was at the Belgrade Lakes course. You could tell he was sizing me up. He parred the first hole and I bogeyed it, and when he went to pick his ball he looked at me and said, ‘You want to play for money?’”

President William Adams

In 1958 Alfond purchased a vacant mill in Dexter, Maine, and started Dexter Shoe Company. In 1959 his nephew Peter Lunder ’56, D.F.A. ’98, joined him, and, together with Alfond’s three sons, they built a company that, at its peak, manufactured more than 7.5 million pairs of shoes a year.

According to a New York Times obituary, Alfond pioneered the factory outlet store at the Skowhegan factory in 1971. By the 1990s factory outlets were the rage, and Dexter had more than 80 stores nationwide. Warren Buffet bought the company for Berkshire Hathaway Inc. in 1993, and Alfond stayed involved until 2001, when Dexter merged with HH Brown Shoe Company.

Alfond is survived by a daughter, Susan, and three sons, Ted, Bill ’72, and Peter. He also is survived by a brother, David, a sister, Gladys Nathanson, 13 grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren. In addition to Colby, Harold and Bibby Alfond’s philanthropy supported buildings, scholarships, and/or programs at eight other colleges and universities, several prep schools, and at camps, hospitals, and other nonprofit and community organizations, including the Harold and Bibby Alfond Youth Recreation Center in Waterville.

“We need more people like him,” Dionne said, wistfully, recalling his small kindnesses. “Do you know what a thank-you will get for you?”

 
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