It is a place of quiet and a place of beauty, tucked away at the corner of Congress and India streets in Portland, where the rhythms of a busy city hum along at a steady pace. Yet there it sits, a place of calm, beauty and intention. A place of worship, culture and education. A hidden gem.

With one step up into the narrow, green garden of the Maine Jewish Museum, a celebration awaits. Amid the bountiful flowers and modern sculpture, throngs of people have gathered to honor Kenny and Mary Nelson, recipients of the Maine Jewish Museum’s Lifetime Achievement Award for their unending dedication and support to the improvement and enrichment of communities across southern Maine and indeed the state.

“When we were driving here, I said, ‘I think the world will be here!”‘ exclaimed Sally Bancroft of Cumberland. “They’ve both done so much for the city of Portland.”

Bancroft was joined by her friends Amy Tinkle of Portland and Bonny Rodden of Falmouth.

“Kenny is a working leader,” said Tinkle, with conviction as well as admiration. “When he takes on a project, he’s not just a figurehead.”

Barbara Powers, superintendent of Falmouth schools, who was joined by Jana Lapoint, a resident of Falmouth and member of the Maine State Board of Education, had equally enthusiastic praise for Mary.

“Mary is our representative from Falmouth, which I’ve really appreciated,” said Powers. “She’s been a tremendous proponent of education for all Maine students.”

Guests mingled outside, enjoying the warm, late afternoon sunshine and music by Jennifer Elowitch before transitioning to the chapel for the awards ceremony.

Justin Alfond of Portland, president of the Maine Senate, chatted with Peter Pitegoff, dean of University of Maine School of Law. David Small, cousin and business partner of Kenny Nelson at Nelson & Small, shared a laugh with Julian Coles of Cape Elizabeth and Rina Sky Wolfgang of Greensboro, N.C.

Karla Bernstein of Cape Elizabeth enjoyed the festivities with her companions Maria Glaser, a congregant of Etz Chaim Synagogue (located inside the museum), and Leah Cantor of Boston.

Merle Nelson, whose husband, Leonard, was master of ceremonies, gave Michael Payson of Falmouth a warm, welcoming embrace while Nancy Davidson, curator-in-residence, showed folks around artist Asherah Cinnamon’s exhibit entitled, “Celebration, Tradition and Change.”

As the crowd of business, political and cultural leaders settled into their seats inside the chapel for opening remarks by museum president Jody Sataloff and tributes from Harold Pachios, a founding partner of Preti Flaherty, and U.S. Sen. Angus King, the steamy summer temperatures took hold, but only for a passing moment.

“Thank you, Kenny and Mary, for giving us a reason for being here,” said Leonard Nelson to a rapt and tight-knit audience. “For setting an example of altruism… that we can all strive to emulate.”

“You have truly shared in the action and passion of your time,” said Pachios, referencing Oliver Wendell Holmes as he spoke of the couple’s generosity and dedication to service, which has had an impact on so many. “You have lived. Fortunately, you have lived among us. We are grateful to you.”

Over the course of the evening, the accolades, appreciation and sincere respect for Kenny and Mary Nelson’s leadership and commitment to community gave way to moments of rousing laughter and a standing ovation as they accepted their award.

“We have a strong community for our family, a wide circle of friends whom we cherish and a wonderful life together,” said Kenny Nelson, following his wife, Mary, in giving thanks to the museum and those in attendance. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

For more information about the Maine Jewish Museum, please visit www.treeoflifemuseum.org.

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be contacted at:

mlogan@maine.rr.com