Unity College and Moose River Valley celebrate momentous gift

On a perfect sunny September day, Sky Lodge, a historic sporting lodge sitting on more than 150 acres in the Moose River Valley, officially became Unity College: Sky Lodge. The lodge and its grounds hummed with energy and excitement, with an atmosphere that was less procedural and more of a true celebration of the gift from Elaine and John Couri.

“Elaine and John, can you believe it’s only been a year since we sat on the Sky Lodge deck, on that spectacular fall day. We had wonderful conversations, we had so much to share,” said Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury during his dedication speech, reflecting on the moment when the Couris first offered Sky Lodge as a gift to Unity College. “Over the last year, your friendship, camaraderie, and support has come to mean so much to Unity College, and to me personally.”

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky as attendees were trying their hand at flying kites, or if they preferred, walking or biking the surrounding trails. The smell of barbecue that lingered in the air, in addition to that of freshly popped popcorn, added to the festive environment, with cotton candy and ice cream to boot. For many, it was the first time they got to explore the lodge and the accompanying car and train museums, over the soundtrack of live old school country and rock, provided by Teddy Bither and the Country Boys band, who made sure to include some Dwight Yoakam and George Strait classics.

No matter what they chose to participate in, though, every individual there took the opportunity to see just what Unity College: Sky Lodge has to offer. What is has to offer students. What it has to offer faculty. And what it can continue to offer the community.

“When Elaine and John first made that offer, we were looking out at some of the most picturesque views Maine has to offer, and around us was this beautiful lodge that could be the setting of a movie,” Dr. Khoury added, while he walked around and introduced himself to residents of The Moose River Valley before the event. “Then my gears began to really turn. With this news, I asked myself: How can Unity College leverage this amazing space to enhance our experiential education for students? It turns out, the answers are limitless!”

Over the years, the Couri Foundation has used Sky Lodge for programs to help deserving children get connected to nature, programs for seniors, seminars for graduate students, and other services. The multimillion-dollar gift, which is one of the largest in Unity College’s history, includes a substantial start-up investment and three years of additional financial support to underwrite staffing and programmatic development as the College looks to build on the care and success Sky Lodge enjoyed under the leadership of the Couri Foundation.

“Our foundation and family are delighted to have chosen Unity College as the recipient for this special property,” said John Couri in front of a crowd of roughly 425 at the ceremony, as students held up hand-written signs thanking the Couri Foundation for the generous gift. “It’s going to be wonderful for us to see Unity College grow and assist Moose River and Jackman in becoming more prosperous communities.”

The College will use the facilities and Sky Lodge campus in a number of ways, from providing real-world research, sustainable business, and adventure learning opportunities for students, to continued and expanded use of the site for outdoor enthusiasts and vacationers to Maine, and destination-based sustainability training for professionals.

“Sky Lodge gives our institution potential to expand our ability to stimulate the minds of young conservationists, to make learning experiential in one of Maine’s newest and most beautiful outdoor classrooms,” said Jordan Baker, President of Unity College’s Student Government Association. “Through this gift, the Couris are showing faith in our generation, and our ability to pursue ecological goals.”

“Elaine and John, while I’m so pleased we could all gather here today in celebration, no event, no matter how grand, could ever express how very grateful we are for you and your generous gift of Sky Lodge, and for believing in Unity College,” said Dr. Khoury in his dedication speech. “This tremendously gracious gift from the Couri Foundation will truly enable Unity College to continue to transform what it means to be an institution of higher education, and serve new and existing audiences who are eager to engage with our mission.”

Built in 1929 as a sporting getaway for an executive from Port Chester, New York, and then purchased and renamed “Sky Lodge” by two former WWII airmen in the 1940s, the main lodge has been lovingly restored over the past decade to its original state. Other amenities on the more than 150 acres include a conference center, contemporary cabins for rental, a swimming pool, an antique auto museum, a model railroad museum, and ski trails. Outdoor activities nearby include hiking, golfing, biking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hunting, whitewater rafting, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and more

For more information on Unity College: Sky Lodge, visit skylodge.unity.edu.