With soft colored lights bathing the walls, dozens of round tables covered in blue and white linens, festive flowers and flickering candles adding to the ambience, no one would have mistaken this elegant space for a pair of utilitarian classrooms. But that’s exactly what it was.

This year the University of New England decided to showcase its new College of Pharmacy building during the annual President’s Gala, which was held Thursday night on the Portland campus. The party is a long-running and much-anticipated rite of spring that serves to celebrate the donors who give $1,000 or more each year to the university.

The shiny new building, which opened in the fall, proved to be a hospitable venue for the soiree, with champagne and sushi offered during a reception on the main floor and dinner and desserts served in the transformed classrooms on the lower level.

One of the party guests who’s seen numerous changes since she’s been affiliated with the university is Wilma Bradford of Bangor. She graduated from the school in 1939, when it was known as Westbrook Junior College, and she served for many years on its board of trustees. At age 90, she’s now a trustee emeritus and noted that most of the buildings visible from the College of Pharmacy did not exist when she was an undergrad.

However, she doesn’t cite the impressive growth in infrastructure as the university’s most significant change.

“It’s the fact that they got into the health professions,” said Bradford, who was at the party with her husband, Merrill Bradford. “That was very much needed in Maine.”

She pointed out that many of the primary care physicians in Bangor studied at UNE.

“In the past 25 years, we’ve already trained more students in health professions than any university in the world,” said Dr. Bob McAfee, who is a trustee emeritus at the university and a well-known figure in medical circles.

“It’s pretty impressive when you’re a relatively tiny university,” he said.

Dr. McAfee, who was at the party with his wife, Doris McAfee, is pretty impressive himself. He’s a past president of both the American Medical Association and the Maine Medical Association and the former chief of surgery and vascular surgery at Mercy Hospital. He will be awarded the Edward S. Muskie Justice Award on Wednesday for his tireless leadership in combating family violence.

The new College of Pharmacy fits perfectly with the university’s growing role in the medical and health fields.

According to university spokesperson Susan Pierter, with whom I had the pleasure of sitting at dinner, “what distinguishes the College of Pharmacy is the quality of our research program.”

This was quickly backed up by student Frank Jamison, another member of our dinner group.

“The research was a big draw for me,” said Jamison, who hails from Colorado and is pursuing a pharmacy doctorate at the university.

During the cocktail hour, Jamison showcased the research he completed this year, which explores how to inhibit a particular protein that plays a role in the development of breast and prostate cancer. He’ll be assisting the other person I had the pleasure of sitting with at dinner, Dr. Olgun Guvench, a UNE professor who specializes in computer-aided drug design. Guvench is a graduate of Falmouth High and was lured back to the state by the College of Pharmacy.

Also at our table was Shawna Chigro-Rogers, organizer of the lovely party, and the College of Pharmacy Dean Douglas Kay and his wife, Dottie Kay.

As cheesecake and coffee were served, UNE’s President Danielle N. Ripich highlighted the year’s accomplishments, including a $26 million expansion of the Biddeford campus and the ongoing work to establish a dental school, spearheaded by a $2.3 million gift from Delta Dental.

“None of this would be possible without all the people in this room,” Ripich told the crowd. “I personally can’t thank you enough.” 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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