High school students in Freeport, Maine, now have their own outdoor running track and field facility, thanks in large part to the work of two Bowdoin alumni, one of whom the $4.5-million facility is named for. The Joan Benoit Samuelson Track and Field formally opened on May 18, 2018, the culmination of a three-year effort, said John Paterson ’66.
Paterson, a retired lawyer and Freeport resident, together with his friend Fred Palmer, formed the Tri-Town Track and Field Committee in 2015 to raise money for the project after offering their services to the high school principal. “Freeport High was the only high school in western Maine without a track,” he said, “while the playing fields were awful and sometimes unplayable until late spring.” Efforts to build a new track and artificial turf field began as early as 2001, with an unsuccessful attempt to pass a local bond, said Paterson.
Paterson said they decided early on to name the facility for fellow Freeport resident and gold medal-winning Olympian Joan Benoit Samuelson ’79. “Joanie is a universally admired member of the Freeport community and a generous supporter of community projects,” said Paterson, “and we thought that naming the track was an appropriate way to honor her.” The involvement of Samuelson also prompted wider community support and elicited a hefty donation from her sponsor, Nike.
The Tri-Town Track and Field Committee raised $2.4 million, said Paterson, including $1.35 million from Nike. The remainder was funded by the regional school department with the help of a bond issue. Construction work began in spring 2017, said Paterson, under the supervision of John Simoneau, a senior project manager at Bowdoin College, who chaired the design committee. The facility was “christened” immediately after the dedication ceremony on May 18 with a five-school track meet.
“It was an honor to be involved in this project,” said Paterson. “Its completion will make a huge difference in the quality of facilities at Freeport High School and will contribute to providing an excellent well-rounded educational experience for all the students. And we were also able to do this while honoring Joan for all she has done for our town and the state of Maine.”
John Paterson and Fred Palmer were awarded “Citizen of the Year” by Freeport Town Council earlier this year for their fundraising work for the track and other contributions to the community.