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From his sitting room in Somesville, Maine, Henry "Hank" Schmelzer looks over the lovely wooden bridge spanning a local mill stream; he also sees out to Somes Sound and beyond to the mountains of Acadia National Park. These two perspectives — the long and the close — are basic to Schmelzer's perceptions and clearly resonate with his recent involvement with the college he calls "so topical, with such a strong message." A trustee since 2008, Schmelzer is deeply impressed by College of the Atlantic's students. "Their courage and ambition and idealism are awe-inspiring," he says.
To help these students get the best possible education, Schmelzer has jumped into co-chairing the college's current strategic design plan with COA President David Hales. That's the long view, exploring where COA hopes to be in the year 2015. But Schmelzer's connections are also immediate. He served as a judge in the Sustainable Venture Incubator, and he and his wife, Cynthia Livingston, have been the host family of Nafisa Mohammadi '10.
Schmelzer comes to his interest in the long view from an extensive career in the financial industry, and perhaps too, because almost inadvertently, his life has modeled such planning.
Though he was raised in apple orchard country in central Massachusetts, Schmelzer's mother grew up in Bangor. Come summer, the family would camp at Seawall in Acadia National Park. After attending the University of Maine, he went on to law school at George Washington University, thinking he'd go into public service. But after serving in the Vietnam War he got sidetracked and for nearly thirty years Schmelzer excelled in Boston's financial service industry. At age fifty-five, as president and CEO of the mutual fund group New England Funds, he looked again at his personal strategic plan and decided he had a good ten years remaining to devote to public service.
In 2000, Schmelzer moved to Maine as president of the Maine Community Foundation, the statewide philanthropic organization that was started by COA's founding president Ed Kaelber. Schmelzer had already become enchanted by COA when, in 2006, he received an honorary COA degree. "One thing led to another," he says, "I got more and more interested in what the college is doing: the mission is in the right place and it's the right time for what's happening in the world." Even before retiring from the foundation, Schmelzer became a COA trustee.
Creating strategic plans is a natural for Schmelzer. At the Maine Community Foundation he oversaw three such plans in nine years. "I enjoy this work," he says. "It enables everyone to have an understanding of where you want to go, but one has to be careful that it's used to enhance the day-to-day functioning of an organization," and that all constituents participate.
At COA, the draft plan is still under extensive review in advance of a proposed July deadline. Schmelzer talks about including statements that support COA's values of sustainability, service, idealism, transparency, diversity, honesty, and integrity in all relationships. Others are focused on specific proposed objectives and actions. The process continues.
This inclusivity — a living manifestation of human ecology — is part of what makes the college so appealing to Schmelzer. He is intrigued to find an entire school devoted to "finding ways that people can live together in the environment and their communities, to be constructive rather than destructive to those relations." He sees COA as performing an essential role as it becomes "more widely recognized as a model of the way to provide healthy, sustainable communities committed to service, whether the communities be on MDI or throughout the world."