Edward Kaelber, founding president of the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor and founder of the Maine Community Foundation, died Thursday at The Colonnades senior living community in Charlottesville, Virginia. He was 94.

Edward Kaelber Photo courtesy of Carl Little/Maine Community Foundation

Mr. Kaelber became the college’s first president in 1970 and led the institution for 12 years. According to its website, the college was founded in 1969 with a mission to use human ecology as a guiding, interdisciplinary approach to education.

Darron Collins, a 1992 alumnus and president of the college, said Friday in a phone interview that Mr. Kaelber’s ideas and initiatives laid the foundation for the college as it exists today.

“To create an educational institution that didn’t have departments was a stroke of genius,” Collins said. “We are a forward-looking institution and the path Ed laid for us informs what we do now and what we will do decades from now. We are an institution that can still touch the origins, and Ed was part of that origin. We will miss him dearly.”

Mr. Kaelber lived in Bar Harbor for more than four decades. He remained an active part of the college community long after retiring as president in 1982. Collins, who took the helm of the institution in 2011, said he turned to Mr. Kaelber for guidance many times over the years. Collins said his ideas were timeless.

“That was inspiring to me,” he said. “COA was a deeply intellectual endeavor for him. It was deeply from the heart. I wanted to be like Ed. I still think the most important part of my job is taking the foundation that Ed and others laid and adapting it to the future. Because of his brilliance, I’m able to do that.”


Mr. Kaelber went on to found the Maine Community Foundation in 1983. A story posted on the foundation’s website said Mr. Kaelber, along with the late Marion Kane, set out to bring leaders from across the state together to improve the quality of life for all Mainers. The foundation started with a $10 gift from New York businessman Robert Blum, and has since grown to assets of an estimated $530 million.

“Ed Kaelber was a remarkable leader in so many ways,” Steven Rowe, president and chief executive officer of the foundation, said in a prepared statement. “He had a unique talent to inspire others to join him in turning innovative ideas into reality. The Maine Community Foundation is just one example. Ed epitomized the foundation’s mission ‘to improve the lives of all Maine people.’ The state of Maine is so much richer today because of Ed’s contributions.”

Mr. Kaelber was married to Patricia Kaelber for about 42 years. He later married Anne Sewall, who died in 2015.

Mr. Kaelber was remembered by his family Friday as a loving husband and father who simply wanted to make a difference in the world.

Christie Lee of Charlottesville, the oldest of his three children, said she admired her father’s courage to put into action the things he felt were important, such as education and helping Maine businesses grow.

“He really felt strongly about doing good in the world,” she said. “Dad actually did it. … He was very approachable and very well-liked.”

Mr. Kaelber had a passion for the outdoors and enjoyed fishing and canoeing.

“He spent a lot of time with me and my brother fishing – where you don’t talk, you go out and fish,” she said. “He loved that kind of thing. He absolutely loved Maine.”

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