Bill Kany: The Spirit of Saco

Thursday Jan 18, 2007

By: Brandi Neal
Courier Editor
Source: Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Page: 10
Bill Kany has his feet firmly planted in the soil of Saco. The 75-year-old Ferry Road resident has been giving back to his community since he graduated from Thornton Academy in 1949.
Kany has served as the president of the Biddeford-Saco Chamber of Commerce bringing membership from 160 to 490 in just two years, president of the Saco Business Association, he founded Saco Spirit, helped get York County Community College started, for which he received an honorary degree, and served as president of the Saco & Biddeford Savings Bank. After more than 30 years of involvement with the bank Kany is retiring as chairman of the board of directors at age 75, as the company’s bylaws state he must do.
“I got caught up in my own rules,” Kany chuckled Thursday, Jan. 11 at his home office, located inside the colonial ranch he and has wife Anne had built during the 1960s.
His involvement began with Saco & Biddeford Savings in 1972 as a trustee. Kany, born in New York City, moved to Maine when he was 6-years-old and has been active in the community ever since. As part of a Thornton Academy student project, Kany was featured in a booklet put out by the school, he was interviewed and photographed by students and the story can still be found on the school’s Web site.
Kany began his career working at Saco Lowell Manufacturing, now General Dynamics. He completed an apprenticeship program and advanced to management, working his way up to general foreman, he stayed with the company until 1967. Kany then worked as superintendent at WH Nickels Company in Portland until 1977 before moving on to become president of Lund Manufacturing.
Kany’s experience as president of a company led to his job as president of the bank.
“I was very fortunate to have that offer,” Kany said. “Having worked in Saco, I knew many of the people at the bank. It’s been my bank since I was at Thornton.”
Kany headed up the bank from 1985 until 1996, at which time Saco & Biddeford Savings went from an $87 million institution to a $230 million institution. Since his departure as president the bank has grown even more. Kany is also on the board for the Maine Cancer Foundation and the chair of Mary’s Walk.
“I know the whole family, Gene (Libby) and I have become very good friends,” he said referring to Mary Kerry Libby who passed away from cancer several years ago. All money raised from the annual fundraiser Mary’s Walk goes directly to the Maine Cancer Foundation and Saco & Biddeford Savings tops the donation list each year.
In 1999 Kany founded Saco Spirit. In the late 1990s a group of people from Portland were hired to help Saco set up a plan for growth, Kany became involved with the committee and helped to make locating on Main Street more attractive to local businesses. He worked with Economic Development Director Peter Morelli and the pair had meetings with every business on Main Street and recruited a number of volunteers to help grow Saco Spirit. In 2001 the city applied to be a Main Street Maine Community and was granted approval as one of six communities in the state that was given funds to help revitalize its Main Street.
“One of the advantages we had in Saco was the pride in Main Street,” Kany said. “We never had vacant store-fronts in Saco and we wanted to make it better.”
Today those improvements are visible. The old trolley polls have been removed and all wiring has been relocated underground. Handsome light poles adorn the streets, the sidewalks have been expanded and made handicap accessible. Business owners are investing in their property and fixing up their buildings and a gazebo and small park sit next to Vic and Whit’s, Mayor Mark Johnston’s corner store. Kany said that he’s hoping that Pepperell Square will eventually be restored as the town’s center.
He said he supports fellow T.A. graduate Sam Spencer, who has put forth a multi-million dollar proposal to revitalize Saco Island.
“I think this group with (Sam) Spencer heading it up is going to do it,” Kany said. “That’s just going to be the frosting on the cake, getting that done.”
He expressed delight at Biddeford’s recent Main Street Maine status and said he would love to see Saco Spirit and the Heart of Biddeford eventually come together as one organization.
“It’s really one Main Street when you get right down to it,” he said.
Kany’s children have followed in his footsteps. His eldest daughter Susan resides in Cambridge, Mass., has worked for Harvard for more than 20 years and is actively involved in her community. His son, also named Bill Kany, is a partner with Smith Elliot and belongs to the same rotary club as his father and his youngest daughter Melissa works as the director of the café at the Portland Museum of Art after formerly owning her own restaurant in Kennebunkport.
Kany is also a big supporter of community and technical colleges and has always favored furthering education. In 1991 Kany and an advisory board decided that York County needed its own community college. Students from Kittery and York that attended Southern Maine Community College in South Portland were driving almost an hour each way to class. The project was approved in 1994 and it was decided that the campus would be located in Wells, a central location within the county.
“The school settled a very unmet need,” Kany said.
The first year YCCC was open it drew just 175 students and now brings in more than 1,000 each semester.
“I’m so proud every time I drive in there,” Kany mused. “To see that school that started out as a fight is something to be proud of.”
Most recently Kany had an award named after him. The first ever Kany Leadership award will be presented to an individual whom excels in community involvement later this month.
“It’s a great honor,” Kany said, admitting he was surprised about being chosen as the award’s namesake. “I hope to do the presentation to the first recipient.”
In his spare time Kany and his family ski at their weekend retreat at Mt. Abram, though lack of snow and a recent knee replacement surgery has kept him off the slopes.
“It’s just wonderful,” he said of the family’s cabin. “We bought a place (in 1960) and that was our life in the winter time. Now we just go up there and pray … for snow!”
Taking over Kany’s duties at Saco & Biddeford Savings Bank is David Howe, who spent his formative school years in Saco in the early 1950s and moved back to this community in May 1972, when he became administrator of The Pines Retirement Community from which he retired in September of 2005. Prior to this employment he had served as outreach director of the Androscoggin County Task Force of Social Welfare, a position that interested him following several years in Kentucky as a Volunteer In Service To America (VISTA), a stint in Boston at a church-related ministry in the city’s north end, and several years as a representative for New York Life Insurance Company in Concord, N.H.
“I will not try to fill the big shoes of Bill Kany, but I will follow his footprints and enjoy being an active part of the community Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution invests in so carefully,” Howe said. “I am so impressed with the ways we serve people with safe and efficient ways to save and borrow funds that fuel the economies of our communities.”
For Kany, it’s time to slow down, but he said he looks forward to continuing to put energy into his other activities.