One on One with…Kevin Hancock, Muskie ‘Access to Justice’ Award honoree
By Wayne E. Rivet
Although Kevin Hancock daily battles the effects of a medical condition that often limits his voice, he remains a voice for others.
Last week, over 450 leaders from local and statewide businesses, members of Maine’s legal and judiciary communities, the Hancock family, Hancock Lumber employees, and other civic and nonprofit leaders gathered to celebrate Kevin Hancock during an incredibly memorable evening.
The 2016 Hon. Edmund S. Muskie Access to Justice Award dinner honored Kevin Hancock, president of Hancock Lumber, a champion of fairness and justice for all and a leader in the cause of civil legal aid. Kevin was recognized for his leadership in the community and the impact he has had in furthering access to justice in Maine and beyond.
In addition to being a former high-school history teacher, a lover of history, and the CEO of Hancock Lumber, Kevin has taken on other leadership roles in his industry and in Maine's communities. He has served as the chairman of the Northeast Retail Lumber Association, and then became the youngest chairman ever to serve on the National Lumber and Building Materials Dealers' Association.
At home, he has led committees to save community centers and reorganize school districts, has served as president of the board of trustees at Bridgton Academy, co-chaired the local fair known as “Casco Days” and, for 20 years, coached the eighth-grade girls’ basketball team at Lake Region Middle School.
In the fall of 2012, Kevin took on an additional direction. After reading an article in National Geographic about the Lakota Sioux, Kevin broke rank on his own and started traveling to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to learn about what modern-day life was like there and to simply do something more for himself.
Six months after his first visit to Pine Ridge, Kevin traveled back to the Rez; there was something about the land, the history, and the people that kept pulling him back. This journey and multiple trips to the Rez led Kevin to keep a journal, which became the basis of his first published book, Not for Sale: Finding Center in the Land of Crazy Horse. Since being published in September of 2015, the book has been honored as a National Indie Excellence Award (NIEA) winner in the leadership category and a finalist in the Spirituality category. Additionally, Ellen Reid, CEO of NIEA, has selected the book for a 2016 Sponsor’s Choice Prize!
A longtime mentor, business associate and former Hancock Lumber board member, Senator Angus King commented on Kevin receiving the prestigious award, “What a great guy for this award. He is a true ‘Pillar of the community.’ A pillar of the community is someone who holds up the community, who holds up our social structures and I think Kevin Hancock fits that description ‘to a T.’ He’s not only a successful business guy, but he takes care of his community and his community includes the entire state of Maine.”
While many people spoke about Kevin’s contributions to his sixth-generation family business, Hancock Lumber, and the organizations and boards he's served on over the years, his daughters reflected on their father’s dedication and commitment to every role he plays in his life, and fully living in the moment and truly being present. Abby and Sydney Hancock left the room laughing and crying with their memorable speech about their Dad. Kevin’s “off-stage” performances speak volumes about his character and devotion to being “all-in” in every aspect of his life.
The Muskie Fund for Legal Services is a nonprofit fund with 501(c)3 status that was established to support the direct provision of legal services to low-income and needy elderly Maine residents.
This week, The News went One on One with…Kevin Hancock.
- How were you nominated for the Muskie Award, and what did it mean to you to receive this honor?
- We would have to ask the people who organize the award to truly know what their perspective was. That being said, I believe I was nominated in part because I had been doing volunteer work for Pine Tree Legal Assistance (PTLA), helping them connect with the business community in Maine…raising money for their capital campaign. I think there was also some general awareness of the work I have been doing on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and finally, simply the fact that Hancock Lumber tries to be a good corporate citizen.
- The award honors those who are “a champion of fairness and justice for all.” How have you gone about your personal and business life in achieving these two measures?
- In 2010, I acquired a rare voice disorder that makes speaking a bit difficult for me at times. Over time, I came to see the limitations of my own voice as an opportunity to help strengthen the voices of others…particularly those who don’t feel heard. This is what attracted me to the nonprofit organizations that the Muskie Award supports…like Pine Tree Legal. “Equal access to justice” is perhaps the most important idea in human history, but even in our country there are many people who don’t feel like they have the resources, or the voice if you will, to have their rights advocated for.
- You have been the recipient of many awards, both in business and by other organizations. What three things would you attribute to earning such prestigious recognition?
- I have been very lucky to be in the position I am in…living here in Maine…having the opportunity to help lead Hancock Lumber as CEO. I think organizational leaders (CEO’s, political leaders and others) often get too much attention and credit. I feel like I get more credit and attention than I deserve. Every award is a team award when you think about it. There are thousands of people who have helped me in my life and they are all part of this award, or any credit that comes my way. In the end, I accepted this award because of the attention and support it could bring to the nonprofit organizations the Muskie Award serves.”
- I know that one of your father’s commitments was to leave the community/world a better place than when he arrived. Those words certainly had a profound effect upon you. How has it affected your life?
- I think everyone wants to do that. Everyone wants to make an impact, and we all do. Pretty much everybody in this world helps people around them. It’s just what humans do…we care for people and we do the best we can to help others in our own way. The headlines on TV often go to the few people who hurt or threaten others but the vast, vast majority of people are doing positive things every day for those around them.”
- What did it mean to you having both Abby and Sydney speak about you at the awards dinner? And what struck you about what they said?
- Well, it was a great joy. They asked me who I would like to have speak on my behalf and Abby and Sydney immediately came to mind. I wanted people at the event to just see the human side of me…not the leader stereotype side…but just the human side…so I thought that a nice way to do that would be to have our daughters speak about their perspective. They both did a great job. I cried a couple times as they spoke, but it made me really happy.
- In today’s hectic world, people often talk about not having time to volunteer or be part of community efforts. How important is it to be involved and make the time to help others?
- Well, I think it is really important and it is something I love about Maine. Everywhere you look people are volunteering to help others and share their skills. I drove by the American Legion Hall the other day and there was my Uncle, Bill Shane, out painting the signposts in the parking lot. People in our community are very kind and helpful. There is a lot of volunteering that goes on everywhere. It is all around us when you stop to look at it.
- You have received numerous accolades regarding your book, “Not for Sale…” Your reaction to its success, and do you have plans to write another book (and if so, what will it be about)?
- Ha! Good question. I am not sure about a second book…time will tell. This book just published in September 2015, so I am still making time to share this book and story and see how far it can go. Writing a book was not something I ever planned to do. This book kind of just found me. But it has been a really fun experience writing, then sharing a story and a set of ideas.”
- What feedback have you received from the public? What did they especially like?
- So the feedback from the book has been very positive. We actually are just about to sell out of the first edition printing. We have a second edition at the printers right now. I have gotten a lot of feedback from people who have read the book. Many people have commented on how open I was in the book about my personal feelings and experiences. How I shared how I was just trying to find my own way…like all humans do. We are all just trying to find our way…yet…for some strange reason…we are conditioned to keep our deepest fears and thoughts to ourselves. I think when I put those personal inner thoughts out there myself it helped others realize they could do the same, or that they were not alone in their search for meaning and finding their own true path in life.
Also, many people appreciated seeing a modern story of Indian reservation life in America today. Columbus did not discover a new world, as we were all taught in elementary school. People already lived here. We live in a great nation, but our nation is human, too and there are mistakes that have been made. How native peoples were treated in the creation of America is a story that still has not been reconciled. There are native communities in this country that have still not recovered, such as Pine Ridge. Sharing that story and creating more awareness is an important step in reconciliation.
- Various experiences often shape how we approach or live our lives in the future. How has the book experience changed your life?
- Most simply put, it has helped me tune in more closely to who I am as a person…not the roles I play (like in my job)…but who I am just as an ordinary person. I feel better positioned to just be myself…which perhaps is pretty much all anyone wants to do…find and be themselves.