Despite mill shutdown, East Millinocket volunteers make SummerFest work

East Millinocket residents Brayden Gagnon, 2, [center] and Jordan Gagnon, 4, sit with their mother Laura King during the East Millinocket SummerFest 2011.
Nick Sambides Jr. | BDN
East Millinocket residents Brayden Gagnon, 2, [center] and Jordan Gagnon, 4, sit with their mother Laura King during the East Millinocket SummerFest 2011.
Posted July 09, 2014, at 11:02 a.m.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Kelly Willigar and Kim Marston were about to call it quits.

The co-organizers of the East Millinocket SummerFest 2014 went before the Board of Selectmen in mid-March to report that they just didn’t have the time, energy or especially the money to put on the four-day, volunteer-driven event, Marston said.

“It takes approximately $10,000 to put on this event, with the live entertainment for two or three days, the street dances. Without that $10,000, we could not do it,” Marston said Tuesday. “We just didn’t have enough money in the account. Volunteers are difficult to come by, and it was just becoming too overwhelmingly difficult for just the two of us.”

The $2,600 left over from last year’s event wouldn’t get them far, Marston said. But then an interesting thing happened. Local artist Thomas McAvoy built a Facebook page to gather donations. The money started to come in, including one $5,000 donation from a town family well-known for its generosity that wishes to remain anonymous.

Another $2,000 donation from an out-of-state Schenck High School alumnus’s family, plus a dozen other gifts ranging from $20 to $200, gave the volunteers the $10,000 they needed to run the event one more year, Marston said.

She and Willigar are grateful for the support.

“We hate to see it end because it is such a wonderful event because it brings so many people home,” Willigar said. “We thought, ‘My God, there’s no way he [McAvoy] could raise $8,000 in a couple of weeks,’ but he did it, so it was great.”

The event starts Thursday with a town-wide yard sale in which at least 27 local families will participate, Marston said. It ends Sunday. Hot dog roasts, a fireworks show, lots of music featuring local bands, kids’ games, and walking and running races are among the events planned, according to an event itinerary.

As many as 5,000 people are expected at the event. Most of SummerFest will take place in town, at the park opposite the former Opal Myrick School, but a golf tournament will also be held in Millinocket, organizers said.

This year is not the first where volunteers and donations kept SummerFest alive. Volunteers, led by Willigar and Marston, raised more than $4,000 through movie showings and raffles to keep SummerFest when the Main Street paper mill’s shutdown threatened the event in 2011.

That the event continues this year despite the mill’s shutdown in January and the layoff of 212 of 256 workers on Feb. 6 shows just how much community spirit East Millinocket possesses, Marston said.

“We know that this community depends on us and these businesses depend upon us. It is kind of a make-it-or-break-it weekend for the struggling business,” Marston said. “It makes it all the more special when you can look around and see all these people coming home and taking part.”

 

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