Bob Crowley, the retired Gorham High School physics teacher and longtime South Portland resident who won the hit TV show, “Survivor,” in 2008, has been working hard on a new endeavor that should both entertain and inspire.

From Sept. 5-8, Crowley is hosting a mini-version of “Survivor” known as the Durham Warriors Project Survival Challenge at his 100-acre rural property in Durham. He’ll bring in 18 contestants who will each pay $250 to compete in the four-day competition featuring tribal councils and 17 immunity challenges. There may even be some past “Survivor” contestants involved to sweeten the pot.

While no more than 100 spectators and contestants will be allowed in at a time, the point of the event isn’t just to recreate the good old days of “Survivor” for Crowley. It’s a benefit for the Durham Warriors Project, an organization he and his wife, Peggy, founded to benefit military members and their families. One of those benefits is a free stay at Maine Forest Yurts, the family business the Crowleys and their children recently started on their wooded property on Runaround Pond in Durham.

The Crowleys envision Maine Forest Yurts, and the annual Durham Warriors Project Survival Challenge, as becoming a destination for “Survivor” buffs who want to experience the Maine woods. Crowley, who makes a point of thanking veterans for their service during speaking engagements, also wants to open the property to veterans wanting to experience Maine’s restful and reinvigorating woods. While impractical to open wide the floodgates for free stays to all veterans, the Durham Warriors Project is a conduit to allow veterans to enjoy a free stay.

Many businesses offer discounts to members of the military – car dealerships frequently offer such discounts, for example. What’s unique about Crowley’s decision to do something for veterans is that the 61-year-old was an anti-war activist during the Vietnam War era. That he would now be willing to offer free stays and actively raise money to help the military is a rare about-face.

“At the time, people were calling veterans horrible things like baby killers,” Crowley recently said to Current Publishing reporter Matthew Stilphen. “What is forgotten is that those soldiers who were drafted to fight in Vietnam, they had no choice. I think people are starting to realize and appreciate the sacrifice the military members have made.”

Ever since American soldiers began piling into Afghanistan and Iraq after Sept. 11, the American public has been 100 percent behind the people wearing the uniforms. Even war protesters, as much as they hate the concept of war itself or President Bush for getting us involved, haven’t showed the same Vietnam-era disdain for those with the dangerous job of filling the “boots on the ground.” For that, our nation can be proud.

Still, it’s rare when someone changes his stripes. But Crowley is a rare individual. Anyone who watched him compete bare-chested in “Survivor” challenges or working around camp in his dirty, once-yellow Oxford button-down shirt and trademark bowtie can attest to that. He is a quirky, yet dignified Mainer through and through.

Crowley is also rare because as a newly minted millionaire, he hasn’t blown his money on frivolity like so many big winners do. Instead, he’s spending it on worthy community-building projects like Maine Forest Yurts and the Survival Challenge, two smart business ideas that will help veterans at the same time.

–John Balentine, managing editor

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