Bowdoin Hires New Director of Spiritual Life

Bob Ives, with a Jamie Wyeth print of a sheep on Monhegan Island, where he once served as community minister

Responding to requests from students for an interfaith chaplain, Bowdoin recently hired Robert Ives ’69 as its first Director of Religious and Spiritual Life. He starts this semester.

Ives has a Master of Divinity degree from the University of Edinburgh and served as minister for several small churches in Maine. Last year, he retired as director of a unique boat-building nonprofit he and his late wife founded in Pemaquid, Maine, in 1979.

The Carpenter’s Boat Shop offers nine-month apprenticeships to people who are in transition, people who need “to heal and find a new direction” — such as those between college and careers, between alcoholism and sobriety, between jail and civilian life, or for those transitioning into retirement. For no charge, the Shop teaches practical life skills, such as how to build and sail boats, how to garden and cook, how to take care of animals, or how to repair a truck and change the oil in a car. It folds its apprentices into a community based around the principles of work, prayer, study, service, worship and recreation.

Ives comes from a family of theologians. His grandmother, Hilda Libby Ives, was the first woman ordained in Maine, in 1926. She ministered small rural parishes and eventually became a seminary professor. Bowdoin awarded her an honorary doctorate degree in 1948. Ives’ father was a minister in Maine and Connecticut, and two of Ives’ brothers are also ministers.

A reporter with the Bowdoin Daily Sun recently sat down with Ives to talk about his new line work.

Bowdoin Daily Sun: What drew you to the position at Bowdoin?

Bob Ives: Number one is my love of Bowdoin College. It was so helpful to me, in terms of nurture, nature and just the wonderful grounding it gave me. I had just lost my parents [his mother, a teacher of disabled students (a progressive vocation in her time) and his father, a minister died in their 40s from illnesses, when Ives was in high school]. I had come to this school I loved so much. And the teachers I had here, the kindness I received here, the family and community I came to adore here made it just such a special place.

BDS: What is your vision for the job?

BI: I see this job as a fourfold position. First, to be the coordinator of the religious activities on this campus, to help facilitate what’s going on here in terms of the religious clubs and groups, and to help these groups.

Secondly, I see myself as a liaison between Bowdoin and the other spiritual communities, to help students be in contact with different groups if they’re interested, like the Baptist Church or the First Parish Church. Having lived in Maine most of my life, I know there are such interesting religious groups all around us.

Thirdly, I will be a counselor. Probably 70% of my job will be just sitting down with students and helping them navigate their own personal, religious, ethical and spiritual lives.

And the last is being an ecumenical chaplain, in the sense that there are going to be times when Bowdoin needs a person to be present for the death of a student, the death of a faculty member, for tragedies, celebrations, or whatever happens. It’s good to have someone on campus. Not necessarily to offer a service, but to at least be present to help coordinate, to speak to parents, to do whatever is necessary. I think this is an important aspect of this position.

BDS: What do you see yourself bringing to the students?

BI: I am bringing to Bowdoin what I have been doing for nearly 33 years at the Boat Shop.  Helping young people to chart new courses in life, to navigate personal journeys in balanced, healthy ways, and to be true to themselves

BDS: Will you try to recreate something like that here, or is that hard because academia is really almost the opposite of that?

BI: I am not about to start a boat shop here, although I would not be opposed to building boat models with individuals, or building furniture [at the Craft Center, for example]. But there is a lot of common ground between my work at the Boat Shop and the needs of students here at Bowdoin to build their own personal, spiritual and ethical lives.

BDS: How will you reach out to students?

BI: How will I advertise the job? I don’t think it will need too much advertising! Already six students have come up to me and asked if they could meet with me personally. So I sense that there is a real need for people to discuss spiritual, religious, personal types of topics that way. These are basic, core issues. I love talking about topics like this, and I look forward to talking about any of this with students. [Director of Student Life] Allen Delong has been so helpful by giving me two places to be available to students, one here at 30 College Street and one in Smith Union, more central to student activities.

BDS: Walk-ins will be welcome?

BI: Oh, anyone’s welcome that way! Or appointments at any time, or just meeting at different kind of functions.

BDS: And will you be offering programming as well?

BI: I’m trying to feel my way along as to how I should do this. I will welcome input from students, faculty and other staff members.

BDS: Will you be offering things like group discussions?

BI: Again, I want to take it slowly. And I want to take the lead from students and see how it’s going to go. So, for example, I would love to do things like taking students out on different kinds of journeys, taking them to places like Sabbathday Lake, the Shaker village in New Gloucester. Here is an old, incredible religious center. And it is such a unique thing because there are still living, breathing Shakers. They are the last three Shakers in the world!

BDS: You come from a particular religious background. Do you think it will be a challenge to reach out to students of different faiths?

BI: It’s hard to picture that being an issue as I have been working with apprentices from a vast array of faith backgrounds for the past 33 years.Although I come out of a Quaker/Congregational background I have always valued all religious traditions. I look forward to celebrating the diversity of those religious traditions we have on campus.

BDS: Are you comfortable challenging people’s beliefs when you think truths might be distorted, or do you not think that’s your role?

BI: No, I think you have to do that. If things involve morality, or elements of equality or decency, absolutely. You just have to raise the questions. I think the important thing is how you raise the questions. I love asking any kind of question. My hope is that we might regularly enter into inter-faith dialogues in a manner that promotes understanding, compassion and respect.

BDS: Why do you think this position is needed at Bowdoin and important at Bowdoin now?

BI: A number of students have been asking for this position to be created. I think I see on any college campus, and maybe at Bowdoin in particular, a need to be able to discuss personal, spiritual and religious topics. And the mere presence of a person who is designated as a Director of Religious and Spiritual Life means that the administration and the College itself strong supports, it is something they believe in and want to encourage students to participate in.

BDS: And the classroom isn’t the right venue for that?

BI: It is an important venue, and I bet a lot of the religion professors have been fielding questions that they feel uncomfortable actually answering. But to have a director of spiritual life says openly and publicly, this is important for our community and our campus.


  1. Bobby Ives is a brilliant choice! Bravo!

  2. Jennifer D. says:

    I am thrilled to read that Bobby will be joining Bowdoin in this position! I spend part of the year on the Pemaquid Peninsula and my son has participated in the Carpenter’s Boat Shop summer camp program with Bobby. The accolades I could put forth wouldn’t do Bobby justice. He’s one of the finest humans I’ve ever come across and, speaking as a Bowdoin alum, to have his caring and intuitive gifts assisting students is a spectacular decision. Well done.

  3. Jeb Fisher says:

    I’m one of the thousands of people who have been influenced by the great Bobby Ives. Any organization privileged enough to add such a delightful, true character is better for it. Good luck, Bobby! Also – I believe he’s a former Polar Bear hockey player, right?

  4. Bruce Balboni says:

    I was an apprentice at the Boat Shop ’07 – ’08 and had the pleasure of receiving the kindness, wisdom and instruction from Bobby Ives. He is a 1st rate, great person. His ways of gentleness and understanding are truly humbling. The example he sets is authentic and totally real. Over the course of my 9 months there, through injury, illness and the beauty of working wood, Bobby Ives helped me to change my life. The standard(s) he set are high but so inspiring that one reaches for them regardless of difficulty. Being a part of the Boatshop community is one of the very best experiences I’ve ever had. I had to leave the Boatshop a month or so early due to illness. As I stood in the red farmhouse dining room, the site of so many good meals and great discussions, looking out over the place, I wept for what I was leaving. Bobby happened by and comforted me . . . saying that there is no good-bye, that I was a part of it now and would always be welcome. I have visited the Boatshop since then and was able to see my fellow apprentices and friends when the new shop was dedicated and his words were so true. It was like coming home. Congratulations Bobby and All the Best at Bowdoin. Love, Bruce

  5. Very pleased that Bowdoin has added this valuable & vital position to the good and benefit of the “spititual life” of the students & faculty on campus. I welcome
    Rev.Robert Ives to the Bowdoin Family and pray God-Speed on all his endeavors.
    My prayers will be with him and his family and all that he put his mind and spirit to. And to learn how to “build boats”….an added benefit……maybe a new version of Noah’s Ark to rescue those in transition and need.

    Pastor Leo R. Sauve’….Grad in 1954…..and a retired Foursquare Pastor(but not really)….I still do a lot of mentoring, coaching and couselling as an 80 year old
    Blessing and welcome to this great call & opportunity.

  6. Mike Coster '57 says:

    What A wonderful and “Gold mine” appointment to Bowdoin.
    I recall reading about his Boatshop program
    Wish we had something similar in New Brunswick.
    The next time I visit Bowdoin (One of the world’s greatest Liberal Arts colleges)
    I will certainly be anxious to meet “Boatshop Bob” one of the real “heros” of our world

  7. Sandy Allen says:

    I cannot think of a finer match–Bobby and Bowdoin! His appointment as Director of Spiritual Life makes me wish I were a Bowdoin student again. Bob Ives is a real-life, real-time spirit, uniquely qualified for this new position. I am extremely pleased to hear of his decision, and Bowdoin’s.

  8. Cory Elowe '11 says:

    This is a great move on Bowdoin’s part. Even before attending Bowdoin, Bobby and his late wife were my mentors through confirmation at my church and I was always amazed by how genuinely wonderful they were towards everyone. Even if you are not particularly religious, he is a fantastic resource for students and I would encourage anyone to meet with him. Watch out on the ice though, because Bobby’s hockey instincts kick in as soon as the pond freezes over!

  9. Heather Elowe says:

    Bobby Ives is a truly unique individual. One of those people that if you even bump into him on the street leaves you feeling better. With all the accolades above you would expect him to have an air of some importance or authority. But he is the most low-key, unpresumptuous people you will meet, for all his gifts of intelligence, education, and intuition. Someone I know uses to say, “There are religious leaders who stand up and say, ‘Here’s the Holy Grail. Come to me and get it,’ and the ones who say ‘Let me get down on the floor and scabble for it with you.’ Bobby is the latter. Best wishes and there will be a fortunate number of students who will never be the same after knowing him.

  10. Jim Birkett, '58 says:

    Wow! Bowdoin sure got it right this time.

  11. Shirsten Lundblad says:

    I am so glad to see that Bowdoin College has created this position, and what a wonderful person to have in this new role! Not only do I imagine him serving the students well with his unique wisdom and experience, but the whole college community will benefit from his presence. Bravo tutti!

  12. Elizabeth says:

    Congratulations to Bobby and to Bowdoin. This is very exciting news. Blessings on this new opportunity.

  13. Steve Houldsworth '86 says:

    I welcome a place at Bowdoin for students to question and explore the numinous, which is so central to the human experience. I am saddened that this position is being labeled as an ‘interfaith’ chaplain. By definition, the term ‘interfaith’ excludes those of no faith. As an atheist working outside of any faith tradition, my undergraduate degree in Religion from Bowdoin has served me well in exploring the full range of expressions of the human spirit. Mr. Ives sounds like a wonderful man, and I hope he can take his position beyond the limitations of religion.

  14. Rebecca (Tucker) Holliman says:

    This is wonderful! Bobby sounds like a great fit for this position.

  15. Lucia T. Miller says:

    How marvelous! What a gift to Bowdoin. Bravo, Bobby! A grandchild of mine and two distant nieces have graduated from there; how I wish they could all have met him.

  16. Priscilla (Burton) O Hara says:

    Bowdoin is fortunate to have a person like Bobby on the staff. Congratulations to the college and to Bobby!

  17. Erl Hardy '70 says:

    Terrific choice!

  18. An inspired and inspirational choice.

  19. David C. Young '58 says:

    Bringing Bob Ives into campus life sounds like a wonderful, creative way to open up serious faith (and interfaith) dialogue). In my years at Bowdoin I felt that the college struggled with what the role of the chapel should be and how to incorporate real religious dialogue into campus life. My own spiritual pilgrimage during those college years, heading toward theological seminary and Presbyterian Church ministry, had few real colleagues. Revisiting the campus in recent years, the chapel looks like a noble historic monument with little real relevance to students’ lives (although there may be more going on there these days than I have seen). Bob Ives’ approach looks to be very creative, very real. This may be the best campus news I’ve heard. Wonderful! From what I’m hearing, I wish I had known Bob Ives. Maybe I could yet meet him sometime.

  20. kerry reynolds says:

    Congratulations ! You are so perfectly suited to this position. The Bowdoin community is better off with your presence, with your very essence.
    My very best to you, yours in the bonds,

  21. David Macomber says:

    I think that Bob is an excellent choice and I hope that we have the copportunity to reconnect when I will be in Brunswick at the family cottage for a part of the summer.

  22. jack fles says:

    I can’t imagine a better man for the job!

  23. robert ganung says:

    I have the greatest admiration, respect and love for Bobby Ives. He was a mentor and wonderful colleague and friend when I was the minister at the Round Pond and New Harbor United Methodist Churches many years ago. We worked together on a variety of issues in the community. As a new minister fresh out of theology school (and very green) I learned so much about ministry simply by observing him in action connecting with every kind of person in the community in a genuine, thoughtful, and compassionate way. He was deeply respected and revered by everyone because of his selfless ministry to all. I was grateful for the opportunity to serve on the Carpenter’s Boatshop Board of Trustees after I moved out of the State of Maine because it gave me a chance to continue to work with Bobby even if it was from a distance. Bowdoin College is blessed to him as the Dean of Spiritual Life with his wisdom, knowledge, warmth, and inclusive style of ministry. I wish him God’s blessings and hope he comes to speak at The Taft School when he finds the time. He has an open invitation.

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