Elsie Viles thinks it’s really great to be the first recipient of the Great Women of Maine’s Legacy Award.

The 96-year-old philanthropist from Augusta wasn’t able to attend the awards ceremony Thursday in Scarborough. But her grandson, William Lund, accepted the award on her behalf and reported back to her the next morning.

“I feel very honored — very, very honored,” Viles said during a telephone interview from her home, the historic Cony/Manley House on Stone Street.

Great Women of Maine was organized by MaineToday Media, which publishes The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. Viles was among 15 women recognized at the first awards ceremony, which honored the recipients for their community service, leadership and excellence.

The beneficiaries of Viles’ generosity range from MaineGeneral Health to the Kennebec Valley Humane Society to Camp KV.

Viles has donated money for the restoration of stained-glass windows and the belfry at South Parish Congregational Church and the auditorium at Cony High School — both of which she attended as a girl. A master gardener, she started the Viles Arboretum in Augusta, formerly the Pine Tree State Arboretum.

Viles makes some of her donations on her own and others through the Elsie & William Viles Foundation. Her late husband, William, owned a timber company, a paper company and the former Augusta Lumber Co.

Viles said she doesn’t have a concrete method for deciding which causes to support. Staff at the foundation — which donates to public charitable, scientific and educational entities — have a sense of what interests her, and she said she keeps a finger in many things.

“I don’t have any special way. I just know, ‘I want to do that,’ and I do it,” she said.

Viles mentioned how glad she was to hear of patients who enjoyed the gardens she supported at the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care.

“When they’re having their cancer treatment, they sit and look out the window at the garden and it give them courage and pleasure,” she said.

A well-known figure in the Augusta area, Viles has done much for her adopted hometown. She was born to Mainers in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where her father was working as a dentist. After his death, she, her two siblings and mother moved to Maine — first to Waterville and then to Augusta.

After finishing high school, Viles worked for more than 20 years at the Kennebec Journal in a department that handled outside printing jobs. She married her husband, the widower of a friend, at 41.

In addition to the Legacy Award, the event honored women in two other categories: the Margaret Chase Smith Award for distinguished careers and the Women of Influence Award for general achievements.

Proceeds of the event will benefit Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization that helps to prepare disadvantaged women for the workplace by outfitting them for job interviews.

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

[email protected]


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