Studying wasn’t the only activity that kept Thomas Laskey busy as a mechanical engineering major at the University of Maine more than 50 years ago.
Growing up in Old Town, one of eight children whose father worked at the pulp mill in the Great Works area, he spent much of his time at UMaine juggling his studies with an assortment of odd jobs.
“Money was tight,” Laskey says.
Now the 1953 graduate who lives in Woodstock, Conn., is hoping to ease the way for other needy students. He has pledged $100,000 to Campaign Maine for scholarships to benefit undergraduates who have exhibited leadership potential in high school or been involved in community service.
First preference for the Thomas P. Laskey ’53 Family Scholarship Fund will be given to students who are residents of Penobscot County or graduates of a Penobscot County high school.
“I want to help as many Penobscot County students go to college as possible. This school was good to me and I’m trying to give back,” says Laskey, who received a number of scholarships when he was an undergraduate.
Eric Rolfson, UMaine’s associate vice president for development, says Laskey’s gift will have a lasting effect. “There is nothing more important to the future of our state than to guarantee our young people’s access to college. Mr. Laskey’s thoughtful and generous scholarship will impact the lives of Penobscot County students for generations.”
UMaine has become a tradition in his family, says Laskey, whose brothers Henry and Harold also earned degrees at the state’s flagship university.
Laskey, who lived at home for most of his UMaine years and often would ride his bike or hitchhike to campus, says his parents encouraged their children to excel in college.
“My older brother got all A’s and they expected me to get all A’s, too,” he recalls.
Even though his free time at UMaine was limited, Laskey made room in his schedule to participate in the cross country and track teams. In his senior year he lived at Phi Eta Kappa fraternity where he served as vice president and “had lots of close friends.”
His hard work at UMaine paid off. After graduating, he was employed at companies including Pratt & Whitney and Chandler Evans. Then, in 1984, ready to spread his wings, he started his own construction company — Key Builders LLC.
Designing and building condominiums, apartment houses and single family homes, Laskey found his calling. “It was a lot of fun. I like the feeling of accomplishment when you see them put up,” he says. Although he retired 10 years ago, he continues to be involved in the business and works as a general contractor on one house each year.
Laskey, who has been an active volunteer with Connecticut’s Republican party, made it a point to maintain close ties with UMaine over the years. For his class’ 50th reunion he helped raise approximately $180,000 that supported various projects on campus.
Since then, he has established yet another tie with Maine. He recently purchased a summer home in Camden. “It’s a nice old 1840′s farmhouse,” he says, “but it needs a lot of renovation.”
Always mindful of his own civic responsibilities, Laskey wants recipients of his scholarship to also be enthusiastic and committed citizens, active in politics, entrepreneurial pursuits and other activities.
“I think it’s nice when young people get involved with different things in school, whether sports or band,” he says.
Frank Pickering, formerly of Deer Isle, another mechanical engineering major from the Class of 1953 who still keeps in touch with Laskey, praised his friend’s civic mindedness.
“I know he had been thinking about what he could do for UM for some time,” says Pickering, recalling that Laskey has been “very generous with his time and his money.”
“He’s a loyal Black Bear,” says Pickering.
The Laskey family scholarship will enable the university to make 50 or more “substantial awards” over 25 years says Gianna Marrs, associate director of student aid.
“It’s a wonderful gift. It epitomizes the goals and spirit of Campaign Maine because it provides direct support to Maine students. It also recognizes not just the aspirations of students, but also their leadership efforts in service to their own communities and to the university community.”
Kevin Frazier, director of finance and administration at the University of Maine Foundation, says the scholarship will “be a great help in reducing students’ debt as they leave UMaine.”
Meanwhile, at age 76, Laskey still is a civic leader. “I try to volunteer as often as I can,” says the father of three and grandfather of eight who, along with his family, has donated to his hometown hospital and high school. Determined to nurture his grandchildren’s community spirit – as well as their business acumen — he gives each one $1,700 as a 17th birthday gift.
“They have to put $1,000 into a mutual fund and use the other $700 to contribute to a charity or help their parents with their education,” he says.
Laskey’s desire to assist others has taken him to far flung places. He has helped build an orphanage in Honduras, a community center in Costa Rica and a kiosk at a zoo in Hawaii. In September he hopes to travel to Mississippi to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
“It’s enjoyable working with people in different places and you can see that you are accomplishing something,” he says.