PORTLAND – Four institutions and individuals, including Richard L. Connor, the editor and publisher of MaineToday Media, were honored Thursday night for their community leadership.

The awards were handed out at the Holiday Inn by the Bay during the Portland Region Chamber’s 156th annual dinner and community awards ceremony. More than 500 people attended the event.

In addition to Connor, who received the President’s Award, recognition was given to the University of New England for contributing to the region’s economic growth; to MaineHealth for leadership in the private sector; and to Gov. John Baldacci for leadership in the public sector.

Susan Pye, a wealth management adviser and senior vice president for Merrill Lynch, received the chamber of commerce’s 2010 volunteer of the year award.

“What a difference a year makes,” said Jim Erwin, a lawyer with Pierce Atwood, who introduced Connor.

Erwin praised Connor and his investors for taking a substantial risk in buying The Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, the Coastal Journal in Bath, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville at a time when newspapers across the country were failing.

“Rich Connor’s purchase and leadership has revitalized these newspapers,” said Godfrey Wood, the chamber’s chief executive officer.

The President’s Award is given to an individual or organization for extraordinary leadership skills, entrepreneurial spirit and a clear vision for improving the community.

Connor said he accepted the award on behalf of the people who helped him buy the newspapers.

The University of New England received the Robert R. Masterton Award for contributing to the region’s economic growth.

UNE President Danielle Ripich, who accepted the award, said these are exciting times for the university, which has established a new college of pharmacy in Portland and plans to open a college of dental medicine in Portland in 2012.

Outgoing Gov. John Baldacci received the Neal W. Allen Award for leadership in the public sector.

“This place is really humming,” Baldacci said, referring to the Greater Portland business community.

MaineHealth, a nonprofit system of health care providers that includes Maine Medical Center, was given the Henri A. Benoit Award. The award was accepted by MaineHealth President Bill Caron.

Anne Gauthier, a human resources manager for National Semiconductor, was introduced as the new chairwoman of the chamber’s board of directors. She will serve a two-year term.

Gauthier said she plans to bring attention to some of the region’s top manufacturers during her tenure. She cited three manufacturing companies — A-Best Windows, Idexx, and Shipyard Brewing — as companies that deserve recognition.

“I really believe that we live and work in a region that drives Maine’s economic engine,” she said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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