Written by Jim Collins
Before Penny Pitou became one of the most generous benefactors of the Lakes Region; before she was the owner of a nationally known adventure-travel agency; before she won a New Hampshire hardcourt tennis championship; before she appeared on the cover of LIFE magazine and was named “Woman of the Year” by Mademoiselle; before she took two silver medals in alpine skiing at the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley and became an international celebrity; Penny Pitou was a high school kid from Gilford whose family couldn’t afford to pay for her skiing.
“Local people kicked in the money so I could pursue my training,” she says. “I discovered early on how big a difference generosity can make.”
With the financial resources of her then-husband, Milo Pike, whose family-owned Pike Industries had been responsible for most of the state’s major paving projects dating back to 1872, Pitou helped create a charitable fund to give something back to the people in the Lakes Region. They specifically set it up as a donor-advised fund, giving Pitou the latitude and discretion to guide the money where she felt it could do the most good. The fund has generously supported the Spaulding Youth Center in Northfield, a residential treatment and educational center for young people with autism and other neurological disorders. Money from the fund helped convert the old Prescott Farm in Laconia into an environmental education center. The fund helped the Lakes Region Day Care Center find and move into a new location. It has helped students, businesses, nonprofits.
“My real passion — more than skiing — is helping disadvantaged women, children, and families,” Pitou says. “And I love helping get projects off the ground, to be part of the beginnings of things. Then, when I can, through scholarships, for example, I love helping to make those things accessible to everyone.” Over 20 years, she has given away some $1.2 million dollars.
Now in her 70s, Penny Pitou continues to lead ski trips in Europe and adventures all over the globe, as she has for decades. But her heart has never truly left the Lakes Region of central New Hampshire. She’s never forgotten where she got her start.
This article originally appeared in the 2012 Fall/Winter Purpose Newsletter.