FARMINGTON — It was a bittersweet celebration Thursday as the campus and community came together to honor Theodora J. Kalikow, who has served as president of the University of Maine at Farmington for the past 18 years.
The longest-serving chief administrator of UMF since it became a four-year college in 1945 will retire June 30 — handing the baton to Kathryn A. Foster.
College and community leaders and legislative representatives shared stories, accolades and voiced best wishes to Kalikow in the shadow of the Emery Arts Center, a community art center on the Farmington campus that reflects Kalikow’s efforts to unite the university and community.
“UMF is part of the best community in Maine,” Kalikow said to those gathered to honor her.
Touting her many accomplishments as UMF’s president, highlights included creation of five new majors, five programs in interdisciplinary studies and two master's degree programs and the addition of 16 faculty members while keeping enrollment at 2,000.
With a focus on students, Kalikow has expanded the school's reputation beyond Maine over the past 18 years.
"You've been a champion for UMF," said Swen Bartholomew, president of the UMF Alumni Council.
During her time at UMF, the college was recognized in 1998 as “One of America’s Best Colleges” by U.S. News & World Report, a recognition awarded for 15 consecutive years, said Carlene Tremblay, speaking for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins as she read parts of a tribute acknowledging Kalikow as a great leader in the Congressional Record.
The university also was recognized in the Congressional Record for its efforts to make an environmentally sustainable campus a reality under Kalikow's leadership.
In 2002, Kalikow was named to the Maine Women's Hall of Fame.
Very few are known by one word, but say the word “Theo” and everyone knows exactly who that is, said a representative for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe.
“You’ve been a wonderful friend to each and every one of us," the Snowe representative said. "We’re the beneficiaries of your tireless work.”
State Sen. Thomas Saviello said he knows Kalikow as a friend, employer and constituent. "You're not retiring; I know you too well," he said. "You're starting a new adventure."
"An example of her leadership is a leader without a big stick," he added.
Presenting Kalikow with a key to the city, Farmington Town Manager Richard Davis called it a bittersweet event. Kalikow has done much to bring positive attention to Farmington, he said.
"She's a force to be reckoned with, but she's a warm, generous human being," Davis said.
For Nancy Marshall, president of the UMF Board of Visitors, Kalikow represents a great lesson, the value of being yourself, she said.
She reminded Kalikow that she said she opens the door for students, then, when they're ready to graduate, she kicks them out the door.
"Theo, we're lovingly kicking you out the door," Marshall said.
In her modest manner, Kalikow gave credit to others.
"If you see a turtle sitting on top of a fence post, it didn't get there by itself," she said, expressing gratitude to those who helped her.
“It’s nice to hear these things while you’re still alive,” she said.
Kalikow is expected to continue to serve the University of Maine System, working on special projects for two years. Those efforts will include improving access to higher education for Maine students and collaborating with business leaders and UMS officials to expand economic development in the state.