KENNEBUNKPORT — Part of the magic of Kennebunkport’s annual Christmas Prelude is how Dock Square and Lower Village Kennebunk turn into winter wonderlands, seemingly overnight. For both visitors and residents, it is something we count on, without always considering the months of planning and days of work the transformation takes.
Kennebunkport's Mike Severance, owner of Bay of Maine Boats and a member of the Kennebunkport Business Association, is one of the small group of volunteers that organizes the event.
“Mike has been a board member of the KBA as far back as I can remember,” says Ashley Padget, KBA president. “He is such an important presence on the board. He keeps us true to our purpose. Mike is also the man behind the curtain of both the Lower Village tree lighting and the Candlelight Caroling.”
For Severance, a direct descendant of the Gooch’s, who grew up at The Seaside Inn, Lower Village holds a very special place. After taking over The Seaside from his parents, Severance and his wife Sandy ran it for 40 years. It was during this time that they became aware of a new event downtown, when their bookings suddenly started to pick up during the first week of December.
After passing The Seaside down to their daughter and moving “across the river," Severance decided to get more involved.
“Growing up in the inn-keeping business and working in the inn-keeping business, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, you really didn’t have much time to give back, to help your buddies out,” Severance says. Now his volunteering efforts extend throughout the year, with planning for each year’s Prelude already starting during the previous year’s event.
Prelude Chairperson Sheila Matthews-Bull says that beyond becoming great friends with Mike and Sandy through the KBA, she appreciates all the work Severance does to keep Lower Village a part of the annual celebration.
“In order for Christmas Prelude to be successful, we need many helping hands,” she says. “Mike has taken the responsibility to make sure everything that needs to get done in Lower Village gets done.”
For Severance, seeing the faces of those enjoying the festival is enough of a thank you. Whether that be the oohs and aahs at the Lower Village tree lighting, or seeing the crowd, now averaging 2,800 to 3,000 people, singing together at the Candlelight Caroling.
“When I can get away and go around towards the Guest House to take a look at the crescent of people around the grotto, holding those candles and singing... goosebumps,” he says.
Severance and his wife Sandy also own the dory moored in the Kennebunk River, frequently photographed with seasonal decorations. It’s another view most take for granted, without considering who is behind the scenes.
“I think there is an obligation we all have that we should give back to our community, in a small way or a big way,” Severance says. “As you go through different phases of life, you have more time or less time to do some of those things. And it shouldn’t be like work, either. Yes, it’s time consuming, but it should be about what great thing is going to be at the end.”
Severance may prefer to stay out of the spotlight, but for residents and visitors to Lower Village and Kennebunkport, he is an undeniable contributor to Christmas magic.