Anna Ham’s far-reaching bequest still bettering lives

 
 

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PEPSI-COLA BOTTLING PLANT magnate Kendal Ham, left, wanted to bequest his multi-million dollar estate to a national educational institution. But, after his death, his wife Anna, shown wearing her trademark furs, decided it was more fitting that the money be used to benefit community life in the region around their summer home on Moose Pond in Bridgton. As a result, in the 15 years since the Kendal C. and Anna Ham Charitable Foundation was formed, over $8.5 million in grants have been given to around 130 not-for-profit groups in Bridgton, Fryeburg and the Mt. Washington Valley of N.H.

 

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

She never lived long enough to see how much good has come from her vision. But visionaries seldom do.

When Anna Ham’s husband Kendal died in 1988, she inherited his millions, including one of his two Pepsi-Cola bottling plants, in Lynn, Mass. Together they had decided his estate should go to one or several large, national charities focusing on human services.

But after Kendal died, Anna began to reevaluate what she and her late husband held most dear. They had lived for many years in Conway, New Hampshire, and had a summer home on Moose Pond in Bridgton. These communities, and by proximity, Fryeburg, were welcoming and important places to the Hams — so why not achieve their philanthropic goals locally, through a community-based organization instead?

In 1994, with the help of attorney Paul Brigham and his associate, Frank Connolly, Anna formed the Kendal C. and Anna Ham Charitable Foundation, providing grants to 501-3(c) nonprofits in the Mt. Washington Valley of N.H. and the towns of Bridgton and Fryeburg in Maine. Her mission was simple: use the money to improve community life. Her mission had little to do with any particular field or area of interest, but everything to do with her belief that a healthy, vibrant community depends of the ability of people to be responsible for themselves and concerned for one another.

When Anna died two years after the foundation was formed, its assets were valued at less than $1 million, since the bulk of the estate was still tied up over IRS rulings. As a result, the grants were initially for small amounts, of between $200 and $500.

When the estate was finally settled, with the balance of her wealth distributed to the foundation, it was worth around $10 million. Through investments, that amount has grown. In its 15 years of existence, the Ham Foundation has granted in excess of $8.5 million to around 130 not-for-profit organizations in the Conway, N.H., and Bridgton areas.

Just in Bridgton alone, recipients of significant Ham Foundation grants include Bridgton Hospital, for its expansion project; the BRAG fields, officially known as the Kendal C. and Anna Ham Recreation Complex; the Western Maine Development Corporation, to bring Dielectric to Bridgton; Bridgton Academy, for its ice arena; Bridgton Community Center; Loon Echo Land Trust, to acquire land for Pondicherry Park; Lakes Environmental Association, to fund its series of educational programs; and the Bridgton Historical Society, Bridgton Library and Rufus Porter Museum, among others.

“Just about every major project that a nonprofit has been involved in, in recent years, the Ham Foundation has contributed to, in amounts large and small,” said Bruce Chalmers, who serves on the Ham Foundation’s Board of Directors. “Just think about that. Think about what that has meant to this area. And it was Mrs. Ham who gave us the ability to do this,”

Chalmers also chairs the Bridgton Advisory Board, which, along with a second Mt. Washington Valley Advisory Board, recommends grant recipients in their respective regions to the foundation’s board of directors. Grants are awarded twice a year, and the next grant deadline is Jan. 31, 2014. Each year around $450,00–$500,000 is awarded, making it one of the state’s largest community-based charitable organizations, on a par with the Maine Community Foundation.

“She was a remarkable person to do this, rather than giving it all away to some school or something like that,” Chalmers said. “She did a remarkable job,”

Chalmers, owners of Chalmers Insurance Agency in Bridgton, first met the Hams when they bought insurance coverage for their Moose Pond home, located on what was once undivided land owned by the town near the West Bridgton Fire Station. “She had an immaculate home,” he said. “She was just that type of person.”

Chalmers remembers times Anna Ham would visit his office. “She always drove a Chrysler Imperial, and was always dressed in an expensive, beautiful jacket” or furs. “She was a very, very proper lady, and a very, very lovely lady.”

Chalmers said Anna Ham only attended a handful of foundation meetings before her health forced her to turn to her live-in nurse, Linda Eldridge, to act in her stead. Today Eldridge serves as the foundation’s board vice president. He remembers the time he asked Anna how she came to her decision to focus on local bequests, instead of the national bequest her husband had favored.

“Her attitude was that she had inherited the money, and that she now controlled the pen,” Chalmers said.

The foundation’s current executive director is Robert Murphy, who took over the job from Frank Connolly when Connolly moved to Colorado. Murphy said the importance of the Ham Foundation to the region cannot be overstated.

“Without the Ham Foundation, it would be significantly more difficult for some of these projects to have happened,” Murphy said, referring to some of the larger capital projects such as the Bridgton Hospital expansion, the creation of Pondicherry Park, or the current campaign to build a new recreational complex at Fryeburg Academy.

“Not that they wouldn’t have eventually happened, but it would have been significantly more difficult,” Murphy said. “We could never replicate Pondicherry Park. If that didn’t happen, you would never have that (nature preserve) in the middle of downtown Bridgton.”

That’s because, in keeping with Anna’s belief in community responsibility and involvement, the Ham Foundation issues challenge grants for most of the larger projects. “It becomes the stimulus for others to give money, when you can say ‘if you give X amount of dollars, the Ham Foundation will give this’,” Murphy said. “Without that phrase, you’re just saying give me money.”

Murphy declined to give a full listing of past recipients of Ham Foundation grants, but their website, www.hamchairitablefoundation.org, lists Starting Point in North Conway, The Gibson Center for Senior Citizens, Mt. Washington Valley Children’s Museum, Children Unlimited, The Summer Camp for girls, Mount Washington Valley Habitat for Humanity, the Mother Seton House in Fryeburg, and the Mt. Washington Valley Economic Council.

The foundation also gives to the Good Shepherd Food-Bank, with the benefits restricted to the Conway/Bridgton region, and provides $15,000 in annual scholarships to graduating seniors of Lake Region and Kennett High Schools and Fryeburg Academy.

Both Murphy and Chalmers said it’s unfortunate that Anna Ham never saw the fruits of her investment in the communities she and her husband so loved. But Chalmers knows that she would be smiling, knowing she made the right choice by wielding the pen on her own.

“She did a wonderful job. Thank goodness she did this. Wow.”

 

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