Each time University of Maine alumnus John Bridge gives to his alma mater he is improving upon a family tradition.
For generations, the Bridges have been staunch philanthropists, committed to giving generously to a variety of non-profit organizations, four in particular: their church, the YMCA, the hospital and the United Way.
But John decided another beneficiary should be added to his family’s list.
“For me, education came in as number five.”
Supporting UMaine has indeed become a priority for the civil engineering major who earned a bachelor’s degree in 1957 and a master’s degree in 1963. He also taught civil engineering at the University from 1957 to 1960.
Named Maine’s Philanthropist of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2005, John was inducted into the Francis Crowe Society as a Distinguished Engineer in 2003. His many gifts to the flagship University span a wide range of interests.
With his brother, Dave, he gave to the Chester G. Bridge Tennis Complex – to honor his father who introduced his four sons to the game. John is passionate about tennis to this day. He contributed to the Honors College which he says “maximizes the talent” of UMaine’s best and brightest. He established the John C. Bridge Civil Engineering Professorship, creating a permanent commitment to quality education at the flagship University. Most recently, he created a two-year fellowship for a graduate student in the English Department to write the history of Bridgecorp, the road construction company founded by John’s great grandfather, Amos Bridge, in 1875 in Hazardville, Conn.
“The fellowship is a way to fund the University and the student, and to help me at the same time,” says John, who served for more than 30 years as president and CEO of the family business which was sold to Pike Industries of New Hampshire in 2004. Today, John, who spends winters in Florida and summers in Manchester, Maine, works part-time as a consultant for Bridgecorp, visiting clients, inspecting projects, and working with legislators to improve Maine’s transportation network.
The story of Bridgecorp illustrates the importance of hard work and entrepreneurship as well as the huge changes that came about when machines began replacing man, says John, adding that Amos Bridge would be pleased knowing his legacy is being memorialized.
“There are eight file drawers of old material worthy of summarizing on paper,” John says.
John credits the University not only with giving him a strong technical background that helped him successfully lead the family business, but also with expanding his horizons through a broad array of general subjects – writing, speech, and business courses — that “prepared me for life in general.”
Some of his fondest Black Bear memories stem from his association with the tennis team.
“I like to say that I was number seven on a six-man team,” John recalls, laughing. “We had a lot of good times. My senior year Bob Chase and I were undefeated in doubles until the last match at Bowdoin.”
John particularly enjoyed his time as an instructor. Teaching six classes while earning his master’s degree made for days that were chock full – but happy and stimulating as well.
“I had always been interested in furthering my education, and the opportunity arose when the University offered me a job on the faculty,” says John whose teaching style was inspired by his former instructor, civil engineering Professor George Wadlin.
“I loved his discipline – correcting every homework paper for every student for every class,” says John. ”
Busy as he was back then, John tried as often as possible to work in a game of tennis. The courts then were located next to Boardman Hall, the civil engineering headquarters where he spent most of his time.
“My office was on the top floor and I could look right out onto the tennis courts,” he recalls. “I almost could have played between classes. I was tempted.”
Nowadays, John is free to play tennis whenever he likes. While in Maine for the summer he enjoys using the courts at the Augusta Country Club. He also spends time at the Kennebec Valley YMCA, built in 2006 through a wildly successful $10 million capital campaign that he co-chaired.
“Of course the amazing fact is that the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care raised about the same amount at the same time,” he says, referring to the new Augusta facility operated by Maine General Hospital.
“People are growing to be more generous.”
John also keeps busy with the Kennebec Valley Alumni Chapter, one of UMaine’s most active alumni groups. He has been a member for 20 years.
“I am very proud of my UMaine connection and I enjoy talking with others who share that same pride,” he says. “KVAC is a group of people who all love their University. We have important common ground and want to help UMaine be even more successful.”
Image Description: John Bridge at Dedication of the Chester G. Bridge Tennis Complex in Fall 2007