Campus News

Chapel Rededication Ceremony: President Barry Mills

Story posted October 26, 2004

The Bowdoin College Chapel was rededicated on Thursday, October 21, 2004. Following is the text of President Barry Mills' remarks at the event.

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to this important milestone for the College - the rededication of the Bowdoin College Chapel. The Bowdoin quad is among the classic quadrangles in America, and our Chapel sits majestically and proudly at its center. I have said many times that the Quad is the spiritual home of the College - the heart of the College from which all of the vitality and energy and enthusiasm spreads throughout our College campus. We are all delighted to rejoice in this magnificent restoration and to have our quad back in its peaceful and spiritually restorative state. The Chapel bells are ringing again and announcing near and far that all is well at our beloved Bowdoin.

We rededicate this Chapel tonight at the completion of the second phase of its restoration. Back in 1998, President Edwards and the community rejoiced at the renovation, restoration and reconstruction that returned the interior of this important chapel to its historic splendor. I remember my first visit to this Chapel back in 1968 and my return in 1998 to discover the magnificence of the ceiling, the woodwork, the stars and the paintings that were hidden in 1968 with years of dust and grime. That restoration project was a work of art and we celebrate that restoration tonight.

The Chapel was the home for many years of the College library, its art gallery, meeting rooms and for many, too many years, the psychology department at Bowdoin - a problem we will solve tomorrow night as we dedicate Kanbar Hall. Professor Wegner will talk to you tonight about some of the history of this building - but let me for a moment talk about one of the great traditions at Bowdoin that this Chapel represents.

Until 1967, the College had the tradition known as Chapel. I came to Bowdoin in 1968 and by this point Chapel was no longer required. For many years in the 1900s daily attendance at Chapel was a required event for all Bowdoin students. There are many alums who will tell us about Chapel and how it represented for them some of their most vivid and important memories at the College as important lessons were learned and talks heard. For others, Chapel is also an important memory - but more for the strategies of being counted in attendance as students plotted schemes to be registered daily in attendance as they dashed off through the side and front doors to other more, shall we say, enthusiastic encounters on the quad, on the athletic field or in the dining hall.

But, history tells us that many important lessons were learned in this Chapel. Throughout the 1900s Bowdoin's president Casey Sills would speak to the students each Wednesday and sometimes as often as 2-3 times a week. Herbert Ross Brown's book on the life of Sills recounts these talks.

As Brown writes, in his early days Sills would talk about the "restoration of the central purpose of the College." Undergraduates who wished to "do something for the College" were encouraged to extend their ambition to include distinguished work in the classroom. He reminded students that the success of their alma mater rested on intellectual achievement, and that they, as well as their teachers, had a responsibility to contribute to her reputation.

Brown also tells us that Sills often spoke of personal integrity and its importance to the Bowdoin community - focusing on the experiences of alums like General Thomas Hubbard who refused to make a huge profit by selling out the rights of minority shareholders in a western railroad he controlled - lessons all too important today in a corporate America shattered by the scandal of self-interest.

He often exhorted students to take an interest in politics, citing the careers of Bowdoin men in public service. Student indifference "is engendered by a kind of defeatism unworthy of the younger generation."

The spirit of our tradition of Chapel was a good one. It was a time when college presidents across this country were looked to and expected to comment on the affairs of the day. Today this is a tradition that probably has no more support than it did back in my day in the late '60s. College presidents today are advised to shy away from the controversial, the political, the moral for fear of alienating some group, out of a commitment to political correctness, and frankly, for fear of disagreeing with an important donor. And so, we have lost the voices of our leaders of our best colleges and universities in America out of a fear of alienating somebody.

So in the past tradition of Chapel, let me venture into dangerous territory abandoned by college presidents and take a brief moment to talk about an issue that is vitally important to me and to all of us. I speak to you tonight, not stating Bowdoin's position, but my personal view on an important issue facing us in Maine - the tax cap proposal limiting increases in real property taxes in Maine.

This is bad policy and bad law. I urge all of you to vote no. My views on this subject are not out of self interest for Bowdoin motivated because I fear new financial burdens for the College - we are among the largest taxpayers in Brunswick and we contribute our fair share economically to this community as the economic engine of this area.

My view is grounded on my belief that human capital is the answer to the economic woes of this State and jeopardizing the education of our children and this state's ability and reputation in the education of our kids is a tragic mistake. I understand that Maine is a very tough place to do business and the tax burden is unacceptable. There is great frustration with our leaders in their inability to lead us to a more affordable economy.

Many believe the tax cap proposal is the only way to send our leaders a message that will get their attention and force them to fix the economic problems of the State - but they are wrong in thinking this is the proper tool to send the message. We have constitutional means through which to send that message - encouraging the right people to run for office with the right ideas and then sending to them to Augusta.

For those who think this proposal will not have serious negative consequences - both anticipated and unintended - I speak to you with experience as a large employer in this State who must recruit talented people to work in this community. We are able to recruit talent to Bowdoin in large part because Maine is such a desirable place to live and raise a family. Maine - The Way Life Should Be - great public schools for our kids - a safe and secure community - a community environment for families. We will jeopardize that reputation and reality that brings talented people to Maine and keeps them here while it takes years to rationalize our economic system if the tax cap proposal passes. This proposal goes directly against our core values here in this state. I urge you to get educated on the realities of this proposal and exercise your right to vote on this important issue to us all.

Now back to our Chapel, nearly eight years ago to this day - Bill Gardiner, our talented and dedicated past Director of Facilities Management, asked Brent Gabby from Simpson Gumpert and Hagert, our design engineers, to come to Bowdoin and look at the Chapel towers - they seemed to be bulging and cracking. Creative and imaginative solutions were implemented to stabilize the towers. Periodically we would learn of a bit more leaning and cracking. I arrived here on campus in 2001 and Bill took me aside one fall day and showed me this very large boulder that had fallen off the chapel towers from some significant height. I'm not sure if it was the New Yorker in me surrounded by tall buildings or the lawyer in me, or both, that said - time to scaffold the building - and fast.

Bill Gardiner and Dave D'Angelo led the effort to figure out a solution to our problem. Don Borkowski, the project manager, was on the front line leading the charge from the outset until the final work was completed a few days ago. I want to thank Bill, Dave and especially Don for their dedicated work on this project. Each is a real professional and they assembled a remarkable team.

First, let me recognize Simpson Gumpert and Heger our design engineers - Don Dusenberry, Kevin Cash, Brent Gabby and Erin Rockwell-Severson. Your team did great work for us, showing real expertise and professionalism as you continued to disclose to us problems we wish we didn't have.

And to our contractor - Consigli Construction - thank you for a remarkable job. Every stone removed, numbered and replaced - a fantastic and artistic job - with a crane that made Bowdoin look like our version of the New York World's Fair. Thank you to Anthony Consigli, president; Matt Tonello, project executive; Chris Daybeck, project engineer; Mike Boucher superintendent; and Keith Lyford, masonry foreman. On time and on budget make the facilities guys and their president look good - thank you.

I would also like to thank Professor Mary Hunter for her advice and assistance and also thank Delmar Small from the music department for his help on the project.

And an additional thank you go to Geoffrey and Cecilia LaChance from Highland Road here in Brunswick who own the original quarry - we took 20 fresh loads of stone to do this job - and to Art Hussey - professor of Geology Emeritus, for helping us solve the mystery of our worldwide search, where did the stone come from - less than a mile from campus.

And finally, there are many famous stories of the original funding of this Chapel back in the 1800s. There are also some very interesting stories on the funding of our tower renovation in the year 2001. I would like to thank my muse and close friend Arthur Schraam from Los Angeles who suggested to me that I read our insurance policy to see if we have collapse insurance. And thank you to Ron Cohen of the firm Tyler Cooper and Alcorn, in New Haven, Connecticut, and Jamie Kilbreth of the firm Verrill and Dana who armed us with the legal analysis to convince the insurance company that the towers had collapsed. Who says lawyers aren't visionaries and creative?

This is a remarkable project and a wonderfully majestic and beautiful building. In this magnificent room there are over a 100 years of Bowdoin memories. Generations of students who have learned here, students who have sung here, alums who were married here and so many more memories. Please join me for a moment of personal quiet reflection as you take joy in our Chapel.

We at Bowdoin understand our responsibility to preserve and enhance this beautiful and historic campus. Thank you to all who have helped us in our role of steward of our beautiful Bowdoin College.

Thank you and thank you all for being with us tonight.

Click here to read the Bowdoin Campus News story on the Chapel Towers restoration.

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