Over the past 14 years, Barry and Karen Mills have popped in at Mister Bagel’s, cheered on their sons at Brunswick High School lacrosse games, grabbed meals at the Big Top Deli, chatted with other parents at teacher-parent conferences, and in many other ways made Brunswick their home.
According to the Brunswick Downtown Association, the couple also enriched the town culturally, socially and economically through their professional contributions. The association honored Barry and Karen Mills at a breakfast yesterday in Brunswick, thanking the couple for being so present in town life, and for nurturing a healthy, reciprocal relationship between Brunswick and the College.
Several of the speakers made the point that as Barry Mills strengthened Bowdoin, he also strengthened the town, particularly by bolstering the College’s arts and attracting visitors to its museums and concert venues, and by encouraging students and faculty to get involved with the community.
Senator Angus King, a Brunswick resident, videotaped a message of thanks from his office in Washington, D.C. King pointed out that Barry and Karen, soon after moving from New York City to Maine, had enrolled their three boys in Brunswick’s public schools. “That in itself was an expression of confidence in our community that people noticed and appreciated,” King said.
Lennie Burke, a board member of United Way of Mid Coast Maine, thanked Barry and Karen Mills for their personal philanthropy and for overseeing an annual Bowdoin employee campaign that raises about $90,000 a year for local nonprofits. In addition, she said, the fair-market value of student volunteer hours in the town equals about half a million dollars a year. Burke said it is hard to overstate the importance of the college, especially in hard economic times. “When times were tough, and things were very much up in the air, the United Way was able to say: ‘We always have Bowdoin,’ thanks to the excellent, active and committed stewardship of Barry and Karen Mills.”
Brunswick Town Council Chair Sarah Brayman spoke about Barry and Karen Mills’s focus on developing the college’s intellectual, cultural and athletic life. “While I may live in a smaller town in northern New England, far from the amenities of a large urban center, I am right in the middle of world-class professional and personal networks,” she said. “The [Millses’s] legacy — buildings, cultural practices and institutional patterns — will live far beyond these 15 years.”
Curt Dale Clark, artistic director of Maine State Music Theater, praised Barry and Karen’s support of the arts. “I firmly believe the health of any community coincides with the health of the arts organizations in that community,” he said. “Barry and Karen have clearly demonstrated that belief, both in words and deeds.”
He pointed out the campus renovations of historic buildings that Barry Mills oversaw, including the Museum of Art, Studzinkski Recital Hall and the Edwards Center for Art and Dance. “You took existing structures and modified them to work in the modern world,” Clark noted. “The end result is a community that has first-class venues for the arts that preserve the historic and picturesque views people have come to expect from this institution and the Brunswick area.”
When the honored couple stood up to speak, Karen admitted that at the time she and Barry moved their family here, it was tough for her young boys. “But the community welcomed us and embraced us, and for that, we thank you,” she said. “If you ask [my boys] where their home is, where they grew up, and how this move affected them, they will each say, ‘This is the best thing that happened to us.’ And it is true, it is also the best thing that happened to Barry and to me.”
Karen Mills, who served as administrator for the Small Business Administration from 2009 to 2013, also spoke about her gratitude to the people working on Maine Street, who shared with her their observations about their businesses and the economy. “It was very much part of the identity I carried all across the country,” she said. “One of the reasons why I was able to be effective was because I understood what was really happening across America, thanks to all the folks on Maine Street.”
Barry Mills urged the town to be as warm and generous to Bowdoin’s incoming president, Clayton Rose, and his wife, Julianne, as they have been to his family. “I look forward to you welcoming them into the community with open arms so that this relationship we have continued with you, Clayton and the team at Bowdoin can continue into the future,” he said, “so that our town and college continue to benefit.”