Photo courtesy: Shawn Brace
by Jamie Carter Logan, Bryan Roche and Peter Anania
Living in Boston and working for the Red Sox — sounds like the dream for many kids from Maine, doesn’t it? Ben Sprague got to live out this dream for a few years, but even as he was doing so he knew that something was pulling him back to his home state.
“There’s a lot of things we take for granted about Maine,” says Sprague, a Bangor native.
Sprague graduated from Harvard and was launching a solid career in the financial advising sector in Boston while also working for the Red Sox. He could have stayed in the big city and risen through the ranks, but instead he chose to head home to Bangor and use his talents to contribute to the growth of the Queen City.
Eight years after moving back, Sprague is firmly cemented in the middle of Bangor’s community. Getting there didn’t take long.
He moved home to Bangor in April of 2011, and by that November he’d been elected to serve on the City Council. He’s now in his third term – including two terms as mayor — and this will be his final one due to term limits. But it’s unlikely term limits will stop him from staying heavily involved in the community.
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After all, he started contributing when he was in high school and continued through college. As a student at Bangor High School, he balanced an AP-heavy course load with serving as class president. On top of that, he was a member of various organizations, such as the Key Club and National Honor Society.
Plus, he spearheaded a massive clothing drive to help those in need in Bangor and surrounding communities. Sprague coordinated the drive, which ultimately had over a dozen high schools involved in collecting clothing and distributing it in Maine and Central America. Central America held a special meaning for Sprague, as he had spent time in the region volunteering with his church.
Why has Sprague always been so involved? He’s pretty frank about it — he’s ambitious, and he knows it, so he wants to be sure he’s putting that ambition to good use.
“I’ve always tried to marry my own ambitions with civic-minded causes and the betterment of the community,” he says.
While at Harvard, he found a way to do this by working with the Bridge Program. The Bridge Program has Harvard students, faculty and alumni teaching classes to Harvard staff who are looking to further their education. As a college student, Sprague taught English as a Second Language (ESL), career development and GED classes. He continued working for the Bridge Program after graduation — even after landing the job with the Red Sox and taking finance and business courses at Boston University.
Sprague had not planned to follow the finance and business track. He had long thought that he’d be headed to law school, but while studying government at Harvard he felt himself pulled toward the business world.
That decision has paid off not only for Sprague’s career, but also for Bangor.
By moving into the world of financial advising, he had more flexibility to live and work where he wanted. First, in Boston where he launched his career with Ameriprise in 2009 — right in the middle of the recession. Many of the people he worked with were emotional and shell-shocked, and Sprague says that helping them was as rewarding as it was challenging.
Though he was enjoying his work, he still felt the pull to move home – and he could work for Ameriprise in Bangor.
But Bangor wasn’t necessarily always his aim. Though he knew he wanted to move back to Maine, Sprague considered moving elsewhere in the state — primarily, Portland. Sprague still wonders how his life might be different had he moved to Portland instead, but looking back, he knows Bangor was the right move.
“In some ways not sure I was 100% ready, but once I got back and settled in I never regretted it. Best decision I ever made,” says Sprague.
He eventually left Ameriprise, spending some time with Means Wealth Management before moving into his current position as a commercial lender with First National Bank.
A Maine-based bank, First National’s commercial lending program gives Sprague the opportunity to be involved on the ground floor of helping local entrepreneurs launch businesses.
“A lot of these people could be doing what they’re doing anywhere in the country, but they’ve chosen Bangor. I get to help support these projects that are driving positivity and economic growth for the region,” explains Sprague.
And Sprague’s work to promote Bangor extends beyond the bank, as he is in his eighth year on Bangor City Council. In the time Sprague has been on the city council, the city has experienced much growth across several sectors. Though he’s quick to point out that some of the major growth happened before he even moved back — the Cross Center, for example – his passion for his hometown has certainly played a role in helping with its success across the board.
“Bangor has been bold in what we’ve developed,” he says. “We have an eclectic mix of jobs, restaurants, arts organizations and offices downtown.”
The waterfront, too, has been a large driver for the city. What Sprague describes as a former “rundown industrial area” is now a “large, open space” that features high-profile concerts and provides people with a space to walk along the Penobscot River.
Sprague has made an impact in Boston and in Bangor, so what’s left for him to do? He says right now he is focused on local initiatives, his work at First National Bank, and his family. Ben and his wife Malorie have a five year old son, a three year old daughter, and a fourth month old son at home. He believes that it is that it’s his generation and younger who should be a leading force in their communities.
“Politics at all levels has primarily been made up of older generations, but given the challenges we have in Maine and Bangor, a lot of the solutions are going to come from the younger generation or at least have the younger generation’s involvement,” he says.
Whether Sprague tries to climb the political ladder further, or just continues to try to make a difference for his local community as a volunteer and local business leader, his impact will certainly be felt. He had a successful career in Boston, but he moved home because he loves Maine, and wants to see the state thrive.
His ambition is oriented toward making a difference, and that’s why Ben Sprague is a Emerging Maine Icon.