BANGOR, Maine — A local businessman known for building an insurance empire and for his volunteer work in the community received the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce’s highest honor during a sold-out event Friday night at a city gathering place that bears his company’s name.
Woodrow Cross, who is still working at age 100, was the latest local leader to receive the Norbert X. Dowd Award, the chamber’s version of a lifetime achievement award, during its annual dinner at the Cross Insurance Center.
Deb Neuman, the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO, said Friday afternoon that about 1,080 people were expected to attend. That appeared to be the case that night, as the entire arena floor was covered with tables with perhaps a handful of empty seats.
Cross was chosen for the honor because he has been a champion for business and employee development and a strong supporter of numerous civic and nonprofit groups throughout the region.
A World War II veteran, Cross became a small-business owner while raising a family of five with his wife, Janette. Over the decades, he grew Cross Insurance from a sole entrepreneur to a multi-office, multi-state organization with more than 800 employees spread out throughout New England.
The story of Cross’ path to success was told through a video presentation featuring other Dowd Award recipients, including Eastern Maine Healthcare System’s Miles Theeman, Cianbro Corp.’s Peter Vigue and John Leonard, president and CEO of Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Co.
Though Cross did not give a speech during the chamber event, he did speak in the video, saying he appreciated the tribute and was pleased to be part of the community.
In another special honor, dubbed “100 Years of Gratitude,” the crowd of more than 1,000 sang “Happy Birthday” to Cross. A birthday cake was delivered to the Cross family’s table, and guests at each of the other tables had birthday cupcakes.
Cross received an extended standing ovation when the award was presented to him.
What drew even more applause — and a few tears — was when he returned the tribute to those who came out to honor him.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Cross has asked for the opportunity to stand and wave to each of you,” Ric Tyler, master of ceremonies, said as Cross, with the assistance of his sons, slowly rose from his wheelchair and waved to those who turned out for the awards dinner.
“I think just a moment ago I said to you, some of you may cry and some of you may not, and I don’t think I’ll get in trouble for telling you this, but Mr. Cross is crying,” Tyler said, as Cross’ wheelchair was being lowered back to the floor from the small stage that stood between the large video monitors on which the ceremony was shown.
Over the years, the Cross family patriarch has been given a number of accolades, including the key to the city of Bangor last summer and an honorary doctorate of business administration degree from Husson University in May 2006.
The year before Bangor’s $65 million arena opened in 2013, Cross signed a $3 million, 15-year naming deal, and he was the first person to sit in an arena seat. He chose Seat 1, Section 111. The company name also is on the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland.
In addition to the Dowd Award, the chamber presented six other honors:
— Business of the Year Award: Dennis Paper & Food Co.
— Catherine Lebowitz Award for Public Service: Benjamin Breadmore, Holden town manager and code enforcement officer.
— M. Jane Irving Community Service Award: Maine Troop Greeters.
— Nonprofit of the Year Award: Penobscot Theatre Company.
— Arthur Comstock Professional Service Award: Michael Ballesteros, Bangor Community Council.
— Bion & Dorain Foster Entrepreneurship Award: Abe and Heather Furth, Woodman’s Grill.