Phineas Sprague, the patriarch of a prominent Cape Elizabeth family and a significant contributor to programs at his alma mater, Bowdoin College, died Thursday at his home. He was 93.

During his long life, Sprague didn’t seek recognition for his many good deeds and accomplishments, opting instead to quietly lead by example, according to family members and others who knew him.

His low-key approach took him down many different paths, and often left behind resources for future generations to enjoy.

He founded the Bowdoin College Rowing Association, was a founding member of the Bowdoin College Outing Club and the Nonesuch Oar and Paddle Club in Scarborough, and as a member of the Sugarloaf Mountain Ski Club was responsible for cutting some of the first ski trails on the mountain, which has developed into one of New England’s top ski resorts.

Sprague also served on a long list of charitable boards benefiting groups such as the March of Dimes; Camp Ketcha in Scarborough, which offers programs in youth development and family enrichment; and the Scarborough Land Trust.

Sprague is survived by his wife, Mary Louise, and six adult children.


“For Dad it was about leaving the place better off after having been through (his life). I think he did that,” said a son, Phineas Sprague Jr., who owns Portland Shipyard on Commercial Street.

The Sprague Corp., which was founded in 1920 by the elder Sprague’s grandfather, is a familiar name in Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough.

Its holdings include more than 2,000 acres of oceanfront land in Cape Elizabeth near Crescent Beach State Park, as well as Richmond Island, according to another son, Seth Sprague. The corporation’s Ram Island Farm property includes Spurwink Farm, home to a horse boarding business.

Seth Sprague quoted one of his father’s favorite lines: “What I love to do most is make people laugh, and if I can’t do that, I’ll make them giggle.”

“I think people will remember my father as a fun person to be with. He loved to start things that people could enjoy,” Sprague said.

Known to his friends as “Phin,” Sprague was an avid sportsman. He liked to ski, hike, sail and fly airplanes, and was an accomplished oarsman and fly fisherman.


He created the popular Spurwink Airfield Fly-In 20 years ago. Planes land on a grass airstrip at Spurwink Farm, where pilots from across the country are treated to a pancake breakfast.

Sprague graduated in 1950 from Bowdoin College, and on Monday Bowdoin President Clayton Rose paid tribute to him in an email informing college trustees of his death.

“He leaves an enduring legacy of family and service to the College and the communities in which he lived,” Rose wrote.

Rose cited a number of accomplishments that Sprague achieved through his affiliation with the Brunswick-based college, including his role in establishing its Outing Club, which “is still going strong after 70 years.” With over 400 members, the Outing Club serves more than 1,000 students each year.

“He was, in 1986, instrumental in re-establishing rowing – the College’s first intercollegiate sport – after a hiatus of nearly 90 years,” Rose added.

In addition, Sprague was elected to Bowdoin’s Board of Overseers in 1985, and became an overseer emeritus in 1991.


“We share with Phin’s family a sense of loss at his passing, along with profound appreciation for a life well lived and one deeply devoted to his community and to the College,” Rose said.

Sprague’s son Phineas said it is hard to put into words the impact his father had on people’s lives.

“He never had anyone point at him and say, ‘Look what he did,’ ” Sprague said. “He didn’t ask for anyone’s permission. He just did things, and he did great things for the community.”

In an obituary, his family said a celebration of Sprague’s “Happy Days” will be held this summer.

“We’re going to have a celebration, not a weep,” Sprague Jr. said.

The family is asking that contributions in his memory be made to the Bowdoin College Rowing Endowment or to the Nonesuch Oar and Paddle Club.

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