Harold Alfond was born in Swampscott, Massachusetts in 1914, and came of age during the lean years of the Great Depression. After graduating from high school, Alfond followed his father into the shoe manufacturing business at Kesslen Shoe in Kennebunk, Maine.
In 1939, while in route to the Skowhegan Fair, Alfond picked up a hitchhiker who told him about a shoe factory for sale in nearby Norridgewock, Maine. He never arrived at the fair, but instead toured the abandoned factory. A year later, using proceeds from the sale of his car, Alfond and his father bought the plant for $1,000 and launched Norrwock Shoe Company. In 1944, Alfond sold the Norrwock Shoe Company to Shoe Corporation of America for $1.1 million. Valuing Alfond’s energy and talent as an executive, the new owner retained him as company president, a position he held for 25 years.
In 1950, at the age of 36, Alfond and his wife Bibby established the first private foundation in Maine, beginning a family commitment to charitable giving that continues to this day.
In 1956, U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith and former Maine Governor and U.S. Senator Owen Brewster sought out Alfond to help create jobs in Brewster’s hometown of Dexter, Maine. In 1958, Alfond purchased a vacant woolen mill in Dexter for $10,000 and Dexter Shoe Company was born. In 1971, Dexter became one of the first companies in the country to manufacture and retail its own product when Alfond pioneered the factory outlet store at his Skowhegan, Maine plant. Dexter would eventually expand this model to over 80 outlet stores nationwide. At its peak, Dexter employed nearly 4,000 people, manufactured over 36,000 pairs of shoes daily and over 7.5 million annually, and generated annual sales exceeding $250 million.
In 1993, at age 79, Alfond sold Dexter Shoe Company to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. Alfond continued to manage the company until 2001 when Dexter was merged into HH Brown Shoe Company.
Following the sale of Dexter Shoe, and with his wife Bibby as his partner and counsel, Alfond greatly accelerated the charitable donations of his foundation. Then, in 1996, Alfond founded Dexter Enterprises, Inc. to manage his family’s investment, philanthropy, and business affairs. Soon after, in 1997, Alfond led the construction and opening of the 18-hole Belgrade Lakes Golf Club, which Golf Digest Magazine rated the #1 course in Maine in 2009.
Over the course of his life, Alfond contributed millions of dollars to charitable causes. Alfond was an accomplished athlete, a sports fan, and someone who believed strongly that athletics offer young people valuable opportunities for personal growth. Accordingly, many of Mr. Alfond’s gifts were made to public and private colleges and universities and private secondary schools to construct athletic facilities and playing fields. Today, over thirty academic, athletic, healthcare, and community buildings and facilities bear the Alfond name. The Foundation’s grants for capital projects to educational institutions have often included a requirement for scholarships, including programs at the University of Maine, Colby College, St. Joseph’s College, Husson College, and others. Over 600 students have received Alfond scholarships since 1950.
Harold Alfond’s philanthropy emphasized collaboration, teamwork, and community involvement. Perhaps the best example of this model is the Alfond Youth Center, a 72,000-square-foot facility that combines a YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, and an outdoor municipal pool. Community leaders worked together to raise the necessary funds, which were matched by Alfond’s Foundation. By working together, the community achieved far more than any single entity could have achieved alone. Today, the facility serves over 5,000 children and hundreds of families.
At the time of his death in late 2007, Alfond was focused on two of his largest projects ever. First, Alfond was the lead donor on MaineGeneral Hospital’s Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care in Augusta, Maine, which consolidated MaineGeneral Medical Center’s comprehensive cancer care programs in Central Maine into a single 59,000-square-foot facility, equipped with the latest technology, and designed to offer multi-specialty treatment and care coordination. Second, Alfond was preparing to launch the Harold Alfond College Challenge, a program that seeks to enhance college opportunities for children by offering college scholarship grants of $500 to every Maine resident baby.
Alfond’s love for work and charitable causes continued into his nineties when he often reminded friends and family that he had much work to do and would not “retire until at least 10 years after I’m dead.” Indeed, Alfond committed nearly all of his wealth to the Harold Alfond Foundation, which continues to support charitable causes in the State of Maine.