About Harold Alfond | Harold Alfond Foundation

Harold Alfond

About Harold Alfond

While there remains much work to do in our Waterville Economic Revitalization initiative, we are excited by the great progress being made—and we are grateful for our partners who have stepped up in a big way. Harold Alfond loved leadership and teamwork, and both are on display in Waterville.

Harold Alfond gave freely of his wealth, time, and talents. He believed, “Whatever you can give you’ve got to give. You’ve got to make your town better, you’ve got to make your state better, you’ve got to make everyone better because they can’t get by on promises.” He lived his life trying to make his world a better place.

He was born in Swampscott, Massachusetts in 1914 and came of age during the lean years of the Great Depression. After graduating from high school, Harold Alfond followed his father into the shoe manufacturing business at Kesslen Shoe in Kennebunk, Maine.

In 1939, while in route to the Skowhegan Fair, Harold Alfond picked up a hitchhiker who told him about a shoe factory for sale in nearby Norridgewock, Maine. Harold never arrived at the fair, but instead toured the abandoned factory. A year later, using proceeds from the sale of his car, Harold Alfond and his father bought the plant for $1,000 and launched Norrwock Shoe Company. In 1944, Harold Alfond sold the Norrwock Shoe Company to Shoe Corporation of America for $1.1 million. Valuing Harold Alfond’s energy and talent as an executive, the new owner retained him as company president, a position he held for 25 years.

In 1950, at the age of 36, Harold Alfond and his wife Bibby established the first private foundation in Maine, beginning a family commitment to charitable giving that continues to this day. 

In 1956, U.S. Senator Margaret Chase Smith and former Maine Governor and U.S. Senator Owen Brewster sought out Harold Alfond to help create jobs in Brewster’s hometown of Dexter, Maine. In 1958, Harold Alfond purchased a vacant woolen mill in Dexter for $10,000 and Dexter Shoe Company was born. In 1971, when Harold Alfond pioneered the factory outlet store at Dexter Shoe’s Skowhegan, Maine plant, the company became one of the first manufacturers in the nation to retail its own product. Dexter would eventually expand this model to over 80 outlet stores nationwide. At its peak, Dexter employed over 4,000 people, manufactured over 36,000 pairs of shoes daily and over 7.5 million annually, and generated annual sales exceeding $250 million. 

In 1993, at age 79, Harold Alfond sold Dexter Shoe Company to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway for Berkshire Hathaway stock. Harold Alfond continued to manage Dexter Shoe until 2001 when Dexter was merged into HH Brown Shoe Company. 

Following the sale of Dexter Shoe, and with his wife Bibby as his partner and counsel, Harold Alfond greatly accelerated the charitable donations of his foundation. In 1996, Harold Alfond founded Dexter Enterprises, Inc. to manage his family’s investment, philanthropy, and business affairs.  Soon after, in 1997, Alfond led the construction and opening of the 18-hole Belgrade Lakes Golf Club, which Golf Digest Magazine has consistently rated the #1 course in Maine, and one of the top 100 courses in America. 

Over his life, Harold Alfond contributed millions of dollars to charitable causes. Harold Alfond was an accomplished athlete, a sports fan, and someone who believed strongly that athletics offer young people valuable opportunities for personal growth. Accordingly, many of Mr. Alfond’s gifts were made to public and private colleges and universities and to private secondary schools to construct athletic facilities and playing fields. Today, over thirty academic, athletic, health care, and community buildings and facilities bear the Alfond name. The Foundation’s grants for capital projects to educational institutions have often included a requirement for scholarships, including programs at the University of Maine, Colby College, St. Joseph’s College, Husson College, and others. 

Harold Alfond’s philanthropy emphasized collaboration, teamwork, and community involvement. Perhaps the best example of this model is the Alfond Youth Center, a 72,000-square-foot facility in Waterville, Maine that combines a YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, and an outdoor municipal pool. Community leaders worked together to raise the necessary funds, which were matched by the Harold Alfond Foundation. By working together, the community achieved far more than any single organization could have achieved alone. Today, the facility serves over 5,000 children and hundreds of families.  

At the time of his death in 2007, Harold Alfond was focused on two of his largest projects ever. 

First, he was the lead donor on MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care in Augusta, Maine, which consolidated MaineGeneral Medical Center’s comprehensive cancer care programs in Central Maine into a single 59,000-square-foot facility equipped with the latest technology and designed to offer multi-specialty treatment and care coordination. 

Second, he was preparing to launch the Harold Alfond College Challenge (now also known as My Alfond Grant), a program that seeks to enhance higher education opportunities for children by giving college scholarship grants of $500 to every Maine resident baby.

Harold Alfond’s love for work and charitable causes continued into his nineties when he often reminded friends and family that he had much work to do and would not “retire until at least 10 years after I’m dead.” 

Upon his passing, Harold Alfond committed nearly all of his wealth to the Harold Alfond Foundation, which continues to support charitable causes in the State of Maine today.