Punch the phrase “recent donations to the State of Maine” into Google and what do you see?

Very little.

In fact, nowhere among the pages of search results will you find any record of anyone giving anything, no questions asked, to a state that most agree needs all the help it can get.

Until now.

Meet Gil and Anne Blais, who last week drove all the way from Ohio to Lewiston in a brand new, $180,000 mobile command center. It’s 33 feet long and almost 12 feet tall, and is the new home away from home for the Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office.

And it’s free.

“When people ask why, we tell them very simply that Lewiston is our hometown,” Gil, 62, said Thursday. “And we wanted to give something back to the state of Maine.”

As Gil spoke, the waves rolled onto the rocky shore outside the living room windows of the couple’s summer home near Nubble Light in York. With panoramic views of the ocean on three sides, it’s the kind of place that has “living the dream” written all over it.

“It hasn’t always been like this,” Gil said. “When we left, we didn’t have a lot going for us.”

High school sweethearts, Gil and Anne married in 1966 just after their graduation from Lewiston High School. Gil immediately enlisted in the Marines and, when his two-year hitch was up, the couple headed for Orono, where he attended the University of Maine on the GI Bill.

He got his degree in animal science and thought he might continue on to veterinary school. But by then Anne had given birth to the first of two sons and, Gil recalled with a smile, “we were getting tired of living no-paycheck-to-no-paycheck.”

Gil tried his hand at training show horses, but eventually decided it wasn’t for him. He started several small businesses, but none took.

“Nothing seemed to be working,” he said. “I didn’t have two dimes to rub together — and I had a lot of debt.”

And so, 35 years ago, they left Maine for Maryland, where Gil landed a job selling pharmaceuticals to veterinarians at racetracks throughout the eastern half of the country. While the money was good, the hours on the road were brutal.

“But it gave me the opportunity to think,” Gil said.

Ever the entrepreneur, Gil was on a sales call one day when his veterinarian customer slipped and dropped an armful of X-ray cassettes into the mud outside a horse barn.

Introducing “La Boit” (a shortened version of “boite,” which is French for “box”). The wooden X-ray cassette case, which Gil put together in his home workshop, was an instant hit on the horse-doctor circuit.

Around the same time, Gil noticed that the backs of the SUVs from which most of the veterinarians worked always seemed to be hopelessly cluttered with cardboard cartons and milk crates containing their equipment, pill bottles and other paraphernalia.

Working nights and weekends out of a $200 metal shed in his yard, he began crafting customized plywood organizers and selling them for as much as $3,000 per unit.

“It was all word of mouth,” Gil said. “But it just took off.”

Then his truly big idea hit: Rather than retrofit veterinarians’ cramped vehicles with inserts, why not design and build rolling veterinary clinics?

And with that, La Boit Inc. was born.

Based just outside Columbus, Ohio, the $8 million-a-year, 30-employee business now produces as many as 50 mobile units per year, not just for the veterinary profession, but also for use as rolling medical and dental clinics and law-enforcement command centers.

Maybe you’ve seen them on the news: La Boit-built vehicles served as treatment clinics for search dogs in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack on Manhattan. And more than 100 were dispatched under various banners to the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

In short, with thousands of La Boit vehicles now in service throughout all 50 states and at least seven other countries, Gil and Anne have done well — very well — since leaving Maine all those years ago.

But through it all, they’ve never forgotten their roots.

Four years ago, Anne’s father, Louis Nolin, passed away. He’s survived by Anne’s mother, Laurette Nolin of Lewiston.

Eight months ago, Gil lost his mother, Bernadette Blais. She’s survived by Gil’s father, Yvon Blais of Auburn.

It got Gil and Anne thinking: La Boit had a mobile command center with only 91 miles on it that, with government budgets so tight these days, was going nowhere fast. Why not donate it, in their parents’ honor, to the state of Maine?

They contacted Col. Patrick Fleming, commander of the Maine State Police, who told them his force already had six such vehicles deployed around the state and, to be honest, didn’t really need another.

But, Fleming noted, the Fire Marshal’s Office does its field investigations out of a rudimentary trailer. Would Gil and Anne be interested in helping it out?

“Absolutely we’d be interested,” Gil replied. “We’ll donate it to anyone in fire or police services who are out there helping citizens.”

And so last week, Gil and Anne hopped in the fully outfitted vehicle (they added extra heaters, an awning and an evidence locker) and drove it 900 miles to Lewiston. And while Gov. Paul LePage, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud and more than 200 others looked on, they handed the keys to a pleasantly stunned Fire Marshal John Dean.

“It’s simply amazing,” Assistant State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said Thursday from Augusta, where the command center now awaits its first call. “Things like this just don’t happen to us.”

Or, according to Google, to anyone else in Maine’s cash-strapped state government. A flat-out gift worth $180,000? Who does that?

“We’ve been very lucky,” noted Gil.

Added Anne, “And we love Maine.”

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

[email protected]