‘I took the ‘job’ and stayed with it’

After 27 years of service, Wes Bonney is stepping off the John T. Gorman Foundation Board; Foundation making $500,000 gift to innovative scholarship program in his honor   

Wes Bonney

In 1995, Weston Bonney – Wes – got a call from friend Irving Isaacson of the law firm Brann & Isaacson in Lewiston. One of Isaacson’s clients, a grandson of L.L. Bean named Tom Gorman, was starting a charitable foundation. Isaacson was looking for someone with knowledge of statewide issues who could serve with him and Tom as founding directors.

“I had been the president of two statewide banks and worked on education, which covered the state, so he thought I could fulfill that role,” said Bonney, now 97. “I took the ‘job’ and stayed with it.”

Little did Bonney know that his friend’s call would lead to 27 years of service on the John T. Gorman Foundation board. His last meeting on the board will be this December.

In tribute to Bonney’s long service to the Foundation and people of Maine – and in recognition of his personal passion to increase and improve educational opportunities for Maine students – the Foundation is making a $500,000 grant to the Mitchell Institute’s Promise Scholars program, an initiative that supports students who come from extraordinarily challenging circumstances. The students supported by this grant will be named the Wes Bonney Promise Scholars.

Commitment to Community

Bonney came from humble beginnings, growing up on a farm in Turner that his family shared with his grandparents. After serving in the Navy in WWII, Bonney studied at and graduated from Bates College. With the support of his wife, Elaine, a long and distinguished career in the financial sector followed as he held leadership positions at banks throughout Maine and New England. In 1990, Bonney retired as CEO of People’s Heritage, which was the largest bank in Maine at the time.

“Retirement” doesn’t quite define the period that followed in Bonney’s life. He not only went on to help build financial systems in transitioning countries after the fall of the Soviet Union, but dove headfirst into community service in Maine. In all, he has served as a committee or board member for nearly 30 nonprofit organizations and state task forces – but says his time with the John T. Gorman Foundation has been among the most meaningful.

“I consider my work with the Foundation to be one of the most interesting and rewarding things I have ever been privileged to do,” said Bonney, from working with Tom in the early years to set a vision for grantmaking; to the transition to a full-time, staffed organization after Tom’s passing and gift of his estate in 2010; to the last decade of Foundation growth and developing strategies. “It was just one of the most wonderful things anybody could work on – to be able to do things to help disadvantaged people in Maine.”

“We have been incredibly fortunate to have had Wes serve on the board for 27 years,” said Foundation Chairman Shawn Gorman.  “Given Wes’ longstanding service and commitment to increasing educational opportunities for Maine youth, we cannot think of a better way to honor him than providing this gift to the Mitchell Institute’s Promise Scholars program.”

Wes Bonney Promise Scholars

Education is a special passion for Bonney. Among other roles, he served as a longtime Bates College Trustee, was a founding member of the Maine Coalition for Excellence in Education (which would later become Educate Maine), and, as a member of the Maine State Board of Education, led the development of a pioneering state education funding formula built around individual students’ needs. In addition, Bonney tutored and mentored youth and provided scholarships to Bates students. Throughout, Bonney said he enjoyed the challenge of working to increasing student success at all levels of Maine’s education system. He also found it deeply inspiring.

“It’s encouraging to see these young people who are so bright.  They’ll be able to solve a lot of problems,” Bonney said. “It just gives me hope.”

This is especially true of the Mitchell Institute Promise Scholars he has been able to meet. They have been able to overcome incredible challenges – including homelessness, foster care, and family instability – to succeed in college and career with the wraparound supports the Mitchell Institute has offered in partnership with the Foundation since 2014.

“The Promise Scholar program has made it possible for the Mitchell Institute to extend—and enhance—its signature support programs to a number of Maine’s high school graduates who have shown remarkable resilience in the face of circumstances beyond their control,” said Mitchell Institute President and CEO Jared Cash. “We are especially pleased that going forward, the Promise Scholars supported by this grant will be named Wes Bonney Promise Scholars. It is a true honor for the Mitchell Institute and the Scholars to be associated with Wes’ legacy and values.”

To have his name on the program “means to the world to me,” Bonney said. “It’s such an uplifting experience to get to support some of these young people who are going to make our future history.”

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