FINGERS IN THE PIE
Hometown entrepreneur wins Rough Notes Community Service Award
By Alice Ashby Roettger
In the early ‘80s, Waterville, Maine, was dying, as were other small towns in the industrial Northeast. What does this have to do with The Rough Notes Company’s Community Service Award? Well, it has to do with Bill Mitchell, owner of long-time family-owned GHM Insurance—among other things. It’s the “other things” that lead us to the Community Service Award.
Bill’s role in the annals of the award is unusual in two ways: First, because of the onslaught of the coronavirus, he wasn’t able to be honored at the annual Rough Notes Agency of the Year celebration that was to have taken place in late March. Second, although he was cited for his work with one specific organization, it was implicit that the award was for much more than that.
For years, Bill has had fingers in the many pies that are Waterville.
Bill was nominated by his friend Kenneth Walsh, chief executive officer of Waterville’s Alfond Youth & Community Center (AYCC), specifically for his work with the Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCA of Greater Waterville, whose home is in the center. Walsh sent informative letters along with the nomination form. Because of his long-time association and friendship with Bill, it seems appropriate to allow him to speak through excerpts from these letters:
“In 1992,” Ken reminiscences, “I met Bill Mitchell when I moved to Maine to manage the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Waterville; Waterville was a dying community, losing many jobs due to closures of mills. The Boys & Girls Club was 15 years in the red, on the verge of closing its doors due to lack of funding.” Bill volunteered to serve on the group’s board of directors and led a capital campaign that helped to restore financial stability to the organization to the tune of over $10 million. In addition, he sparked the merger of the Boys & Girls Clubs and the YMCA—the first such merger in the nation. (Incidentally, Bill was an alum of both organizations.)
That wasn’t enough for Bill, however. According to Ken, because the Boys & Girls Clubs-YMCA were going to be housed in the newly constructed AYCC, “Bill took on the role of volunteer project manager of the construction of the building, working more than 30 hours per week for an entire year.” (Incidentally, Bill also is a commercial real estate developer and owns a property management and maintenance business; however, much of his work on building projects is done on a volunteer basis.)
But that’s not all. “When the doors opened,” Ken continues, “the AYCC was the largest licensed school-aged program in the Northeast. … Bill worked with me to create a planned-giving campaign.” The AYCC started with zero in the campaign account, and “through aggressive hard work, as of this date, we now have $22 million.”
Bill also helped draft the original bylaws and affiliation agreement for the combined organization. “It comes as no surprise we inducted Bill into our 2001 Inspirational Hall of Fame for his immense contributions to the 5,000 underprivileged youth from over 191 communities served at this facility,” Ken writes.
And this is where the “fingers in the pie” comes in.
While Bill was collaborating with Ken on the Boys & Girls Clubs, he naturally got involved in other activities that benefited both that organization and the AYCC. (That was, of course, in addition to the many community activities in which he was already involved.) According to Ken, through the years, Bill has given in a number of ways.
For instance, he organized and ran the Bill Mitchell’s GHM Invitational Golf Tournament, which benefits the AYCC’s after-school program. “Unlike some donors who simply lend their name to an event and appear once the work is done to accept congratulations, Bill runs this event from start to finish,” Ken explains. “We just show up to accept the check on the 18th hole.” The grand total of the event’s contributions tops $500,000 to date.
Bill also donated an entire phone system to Camp Tracy, the AYCC’s summer day camp program.
As a major donor, Bill supported adding a second floor to the Alfond Center and became a member of the Founders Club, pledging a legacy gift.
Along with his wife, Vicki, Bill organized the Weekend Meals Back-pack program, “Snackpack Backpacks.” According to Ken, 80% of the children served by AYCC are food insecure. They finish their day with a hot meal, but what happens over the weekend? Well, “From 70 backpacks distributed weekly in 2015, we now fill over 125 backpacks weekly to feed over 430 individuals in need,” notes Ken.
Bill helped drive that growth. He “issued a 92-Day Backpack Challenge to our community to fill 5,000 backpacks in 92 days through a raffle sponsored by the Alfond Youth Center, (radio station) Mix Maine, and another of Bill’s businesses, The Proper Pig restaurant,” Ken says. “By partnering with the local radio station and offering a raffle prize entry to every donor, Bill helped us raise over $18,000 (to fill 3,600 backpacks) from over 350 com-munity members, which widened our donor base and brought community awareness to our vital service.”
“In every venture, Bill engages the entire community in innovative and exciting ways, delivers a fun and quality experience that keeps participants returning year after year, and thus increases the number of kids we can serve, the quality of our services, and community awareness of our programs.”
Chief Executive Officer
Alfond Youth & Community Center
Then came an unusual event, which Ken describes as the result of Bill’s drive and creativity to sponsor his own unique community fundraisers. For the past four years, Bill has challenged local restaurants [why not? he co-owns one] to sponsor a team of employees to jump into frigid outdoor pool water at the group’s annual Polar Bear Dip. “Always leading by example,” Ken says, “Bill gathers his team, then matches all funds raised by those dippers.”
Ken points out that Bill was born and raised in Waterville and has spent all of his adult years building and giving back to his community. Part of that is serving as the CEO of GHM Insurance, the independent agency he took over from his father; Bill started working there in 1982 while a student at the University of Maine. Through the years, Bill’s dad, who died at age 92, inspired Bill’s sense of entrepreneurship and community service.
Bill has since been the recipient of the Business Person of the Year award from the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, and his company received Honorable Mention for Family Business of the Year and the Governor’s Award for Business Excellence. In addition, Bill has served on several insurers’ agent advisory boards, including Hanover Insurance Group, Liberty Mutual and MMG Insurance Company.
Many of Waterville’s restored buildings bear this finger-in-the-pie guy’s imprint. One in particular housed the American Legion, in which his dad was active. It is now The Elm, an events and arts center that, not surprisingly, Bill owns and operates. It is no wonder that the Central Maine Growth Council named him Developer of the Year in 2018. The Proper Pig restaurant and Mitchell’s own GHM Insurance also occupy restored downtown buildings.
The current pandemic has proved to be fodder for Bill’s philanthropic leanings. He invited fellow restaurateurs to join him in sharing half of their carry-out profits with the Alfond Center so that it can deliver 1,300 hot meals to needy people in the Waterville area.
Ken concludes: “It is rare for a nonprofit to find such a lifelong and energetic supporter as Bill Mitchell; we are truly lucky he has chosen to cast his light on us. In every venture, Bill engages the entire community in innovative and exciting ways, delivers a fun and quality experience that keeps participants returning year after year, and thus increases the number of kids we can serve, the quality of our services, and community awareness of our programs.”
If there had been a Rough Notes Agency of the Year and Community Service Award celebration this year, one wonders if Bill would have entered the room with a backpack slung across his shoulders or wearing goggles and a wet suit, with his hand out asking for donations. Unfortunately, because of the world pandemic and the cancellation of the celebration, we’ll never know. Bill knows, however, that he will receive a trophy in the shape of an eagle and The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Waterville will receive a check for $5,000.
Seeing the need to recognize independent agents and brokers for giving back to their communities, agent Bob Kretzmer and Walt Gdowski, owner and president of The Rough Notes Company, created the Rough Notes Community Service Award. The winner is picked from reader nominations. Look for a nomination form in later issues of Rough Notes magazine.
For more information:
Boys & Girls Club–YMCA of Greater Waterville