When Maine Governor John McKernan stated, “…. I will create within the Executive Department a program to promote volunteerism in Maine ….” during his January 8, 1987 inauguration speech, Bruce Flaherty immediately thought about the possibility of a new ‘Governor’s Award for Volunteerism’! Since he has known John McKernan ever since the two were introduced as freshmen classmates at Dartmouth College, Flaherty wrote to Maine’s new chief executive suggesting the establishment of a town volunteer recognition program culminating with the presentation of the new award at a state-wide event. Governor McKernan wrote back to Bruce on January 22, 1987, “Your thoughts about fostering greater volunteerism were great! As you know, I am very interested in this area and I have asked my staff to review your ideas and incorporate them into our program.”
Although two separate suits brought against Governor John Sununu and the State of New Hampshire in conjunction with that state’s volunteer recognition program discouraged the McKernan administration from adopting the ideas, Bruce continued to consider the possibility of a ‘universal’ volunteer recognition award. Over time it became apparent that a foundation should be established to oversee the presentation of the tribute. The name for that organization ‘fell out of the air’ when Bruce happened to be reading an article in the Monday, July 2, 1990 issue of the Boston Globe that began, “More than a decade after President Jimmy Carter warned of a crisis in the spirit of America ….”. The phrase ‘spirit of America’ had a special ‘ring’ to it! ‘Spirit of America Foundation’ – a great name!
After an Augusta Kiwanis meeting in Oct., 1990, Bruce met with Fred Hayward, Roger Pomerleau, and Don Taverner to sow the seeds for Spirit of America Foundation. Realizing that three volunteers of the caliber of Roger, Don, and Fred were interested in the proposed foundation’s principles, Bruce sensed something ‘big’ was evolving! Working as a team, the four developed tentative criteria for a ‘Spirit of America’ award and strengthened the organization in the months ahead.
The first Spirit of America Foundation tribute was presented to Alma Jones by Augusta Mayor William Burney on November 26, 1991! On June 7, 1992 Theresa Weber became the first youth to receive a Spirit of America tribute and ‘Merry Christmas’ (performed by China’s Boynton Webber Post 179 and Auxiliary) became the first project to be recognized with that honor!
Spirit of America Foundation became incorporated with the State of Maine as of Oct. 16, 1990, applied for recognition as a 501(c)(3) public charity status from Internal Revenue Service, and got a letter dated December 13, 1995 from IRS granting the status (still in effect). The Foundation’s mailing address is PO Box 5637, Augusta ME 04332.
Every year the Spirit of America Foundation Tribute is presented in the name of 100+ Maine municipalities. In many, Boards of Selectmen choose their town’s tribute recipient and honor them at the annual town meeting. Radio personalities Don Brown and Ryan Cote and national trainer Wayne Mitchell have spoken at many Spirit of America events – five times Maine’s Governor has attended the annual event recognizing the past year’s Spirit of America honorees of all Maine towns!