Town-gown synergy

The death last week of the founding president of the College of the Atlantic offers an opportunity to reflect on the difference the college has made in Bar Harbor and on Mount Desert Island in its 49 years.

Ed Kaelber saw his role, former colleagues remember, as “helping folks to work together to get things done.”

In a community that always has been a crossroads — of fishing and farming and tourism, of “born here” and “from away,” of migrating fish and fowl — helping folks work together to get things done is awfully important.

It takes a special kind of leadership to attract funding to a venture such as a college and then to plan and direct it so the institution is a benefit to the community inside and beyond the campus.

Much like the founding fathers of Acadia National Park, Kaelber knew it would be important to seek advice from town and business leaders here. If the new college was going to be a help, not a hindrance or a nuisance, to the local community, he knew he needed local voices at the table.

He and his team succeeded marvelously, building paths that the college’s current leadership aims to continue to follow. They’ve educated smart, compassionate citizens, hundreds of whom have stayed to make their lives here. They are the founders and owners of seasonal and year-round businesses. They are teachers and government leaders, parents and poets and puppeteers.

Collaboration between the college and Acadia also runs deep. Students benefit from access to the park for study in science, conservation, law, government, communications and the arts, but they also make valuable contributions. Generations of students have pored over park management and planning documents, and many of their insights have been incorporated by park officials.

“We need their ideas, energy and solutions,” Acadia Superintendent Kevin Schneider said last year of collaborations with COA students.

Kaelber would be — and was — thrilled to see the dream of an “Island College” come to such full fruition.

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