AUGUSTA — If a common thread runs through Mark Johnston’s life, it’s service, and it comes in many forms.

Sometimes it’s as complicated as leading the charge in fundraising for a new hospital building or cancer care center, and sometimes it’s as simple as picking up trash on a daily walk.

Johnston, now 63, and retired as the president and chief executive officer of Kennebec Savings Bank, continues his service to his community through his work with organizations like Camp KV for Kids, the Elsie and William Viles Foundation, the Theater at Monmouth and the Kiwanis Club, among others.

Now his community is honoring him. Johnston has been named the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Peter G. Thompson Lifetime Achievement award winner. Chamber members will celebrate him on Jan. 27 at the presentation of the 2017 Kenney Awards.

Peter Thompson, who has known Johnston for years, said the retired banker has played an important role in helping the region see itself through new eyes.

“He’s helped this community do some of the things it was in need of over the last few decades,” said Thompson, who retired as the chief executive officer of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2015.

One of them was build its self-esteem. Thompson said when he first arrived in the Augusta area, he found a lack of community spirit and achievement.

“We have tended to be known as the place where laws are made, and not everyone has liked that,” he said.

Now Augusta is known for much more — a retail and service center, MaineGeneral Medical Center and its Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care, Thompson said. Johnston has helped shape it, both through his service activities and his leadership at Kennebec Savings Bank, contributing to a cleaner, sharper image for the state’s capital city.

“He’s just been highly respected as an even-keeled fellow who plugs along and gets things done,” said Thompson, who was honored with the chamber award that now bears his name in 2016.

For Johnston, service has always been a part of his life.

“It started well back, when I grew up in a section of Jefferson called Bunker Hill,” he said. At 14, he both started playing organ at the Baptist church and joined Bunker Hill Grange 554, which was a rite of passage and a conduit to becoming involved in his community.

As he progressed through school, at Lincoln Academy in Newcastle, and at the University of Maine, he continued to seek out opportunities to serve, through involvement in school activities and organizations such as Alpha Phi Omega, a co-ed service fraternity. When he started in banking in Augusta, he found his way to the Jaycees, which was a launching pad to other organizations, including the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, where he has served on the chamber board as a member and as chairman.

Sometimes, managing his commitments has been a balancing act. When he was contacted to head the fundraising for the cancer center, he initially said no.

“I had too many things going on,” he said. But Maribeth Canning, who serves with him on the Elsie and William Viles Foundation board, put together a persuasive team to get him on board. He’d also spent some time thinking about people he’s known who have battled cancer, including his mother and his mother-in-law. He also talked it over with his wife, Judy, and weighed it against his other commitments.

“I just said, ‘It’s a calling and I need to do this,'” he said.

He and his team were successful in raising more than $5 million to match the $5 million pledged by Harold Alfond. Johnston was also successful with his team in the campaign to raise funds to build the new hospital building.

Thompson said Johnston also has left a mark as a member of the business community.

Memorial Circle, at the east end of Western Avenue in Augusta, for years was notable for its gas station and run-down motel, Thompson said. The bank’s investment in its own building on the circle has improved it immeasurably, and that level of care has been extended to the bank’s other offices in Waterville, Farmingdale and Winthrop.

“That’s carried over to his commitment with Cony, to help build a new high school with some nice amenities that would not have come about without efforts to raise money to pay for them,” Thompson said.

Before he retired, Johnston oversaw a change in corporate structure at Kennebec Savings Bank, creating a mutual holding company to give the depositors-owned bank more flexibility and ability to raise money in a financial crisis while preserving its status as a mutual savings bank.

From retirement, Johnston said he has hopes that the next generation of business leaders coming up will be able to continue to contribute to and build their community.

“Sometimes they get a bad rap,” he said. “My wish for them is that they are able to muster their resources and have a vision to make improvements and not accept the status quo. It takes people to make things happen.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ


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