WATERVILLE — Kenneth Eskelund was remembered Thursday for giving generously to many causes, particularly those involving children.

Eskelund, 89, of Winslow, died Wednesday night at a Portland hospital after he fell ill at the Alfond Youth Center annual appeals dinner, according to Ken Walsh, the center’s chief executive officer.

Eskelund was taken to an area hospital before he was transferred to Portland, Walsh said.

“The amazing thing is, he loved the children so much and his last act in life was here at the youth center,” Walsh said Thursday.

Eskelund and his wife, Shirley, were known throughout central Maine and beyond for their philanthropy. Besides giving to the Alfond Center and spearheading fundraising and construction of the center’s second floor, the couple gave to the Maine Children’s Home, MaineGeneral Medical Center, Humane Society Waterville Area, Muskie Center and United Way of Mid-Maine Inc., among other charities. They were named honorary campaign chairpersons of the United Way’s capital campaign in 2007.

Their accolades include the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce’s Distinguished Community Service Award in 2007 and Good Will-Hinckley School’s Rev. George F. Hinckley Humanitarian of the Year Award, in 2000. Eskelund was named Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year in 2001 by the Northern New England Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

A conference center on the Maine Children’s Home campus was named after the Eskelunds; the home was a special project of Shirley Eskelund. The after school program at the Alfond Center is also named for the couple.

Eskelund established two businesses in Winslow — Maine Biological Laboratories, which later became Lohmann Animal Health, and Northeast Laboratory Services. The businesses provided jobs for dozens of people.

A street behind the animal center was named Kenneth Eskelund Drive. Eskelund was so loved and respected in Winslow that he was asked in 2005 to be grand marshal of the Winslow fourth of July celebration.

“Certainly, he was a very generous, very caring, very friendly individual,” Winslow Town Manager Michael Heavener said Thursday. “I had the fortunate opportunity to interact with him on a number of occasions and he just impressed me as a person who obviously was highly intelligent but at the same time, down to earth. I was very impressed with him and he will be sadly missed.”

People who knew Eskelund spoke of him with high praise Thursday.

Jerry and Betsy Tipper of Smithfield sat with the Eskelunds Wednesday night at the appeals dinner, which raised $200,000. Jerry Tipper said his wife called 911 when it appeared Eskelund was having a medical issue.

“When they were taking him out in a wheelchair, he said to Shirley, ‘I don’t want you to come with me; I want you to stay so you can enjoy the children,'” Tipper recalled.

“That really sort of says it all about how Ken felt about the children. He just was a tremendous supporter of children’s causes and gave generously throughout his life and more than that, he encouraged others to do the same,” Tipper said.

The Alfond Center houses the Boys & Girls Club and YMCA. Tipper is chairman of the center’s Legacy Committee and a former chairman of the Boys Club board of directors. The Tippers served with Eskelund on various boards for many years, according to Betsy Tipper.

“His generosity for the children of the Waterville area was extraordinary,” she said.

Eskelund was a member of the Alfond Center’s Heritage Circle and a former member of the board of directors. The Heritage Circle is a distinguished panel of past board members, supporters and donors who are ambassadors for the organization.

Eskelund was particularly focused on and adept at planning for future financial needs of the center, Walsh said.

He was serious about business, but also had a playful side, Walsh said.

“At charity and holiday balls, Ken would be the first one on the dance floor and the last to leave,” he said.

Walsh met the Eskelunds in 1992, Walsh’s first year in Maine. Walsh and his family became close friends of the couple.

“Ken was like a second father to me,” Walsh said.

He said the two families shared many Saturdays over 21 years watching Michigan State and Notre Dame football games. The Eskelunds are graduates of Michigan State, and Kenneth Eskelund earned a doctor of veterinary medicine degree there. In 2005, he received the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor the school’s alumni bestows on graduates, for distinguishing themselves both professionally and in the community.

Eskelund did not want a funeral service, but a celebration of his life will be held 4 to 7 p.m., Wednesday, June 12 at the Alfond Center, Walsh said.

Eskelund leaves behind his wife and three sons, Rick, Donald and Dave, according to Walsh.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]

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