From the morning sunrise gathering at Baxter Boulevard to the evening salute in the gardens of the Maine Historic Society, the tribute to Gov. Percival P. Baxter last week highlighted not only his generosity, but his humble nature. His great-nephew said as much as he spoke of his uncle.

“Whenever he sent (a gift) to someone, he sent a note that said, ‘Don’t tell anyone I did this.’ He was a nice person,” said Rupert Baxter White, as he fought back tears.

Such insight into one of Maine’s greatest philanthropists came throughout the day celebrating the 50th anniversary of Baxter’s last acquisition for the 201,108-acre park he created. Baxter’s life story as told through the day’s programs was one of a thoughtful man of means, but also of a humble public servant.

And the only thing missing from the celebration hosted by the Friends of Baxter State Park was more people. Certainly, it would have served the many who are fond of the wilderness park, and even those who have never been there.

“I had no idea he (saved) the forts around southern Maine. I didn’t know about today until I saw the article in the paper yesterday. I would have liked to hear more,” said Jean Aron of Portland, who was at the talk by State Historian Earle Shettleworth at Evergreen Cemetery.

The several events were attended by crowds of about 30 to 60, from the 6 a.m. presentation at Baxter Boulevard to the hike around the Baxter’s former summer retreat on Mackworth Island to the tour of Frederic Church’s work in the Portland Museum of Art. Most were members of the friends groups.

So it’s too bad the 750-member nonprofit that hosted the celebration did not get out a bigger invitation to the public and more fanfare around the events.

But then, fanfare was never what Percival Baxter wanted, as Shettleworth showed in a 1924 letter Baxter wrote before leaving his post as governor:

“I have done my duty fearlessly, and am grateful for the opportunity that was given me to serve my state. I love the people of Maine and I love every foot of her soil. I leave office in a few weeks, cheerful and happy, but with regret that I can not do all the things I would like to do for my State and her People … What I am to do after retiring from the governorship is doubtful. I hope to continue to be useful, and to do my part as a citizen.”

Of course, Baxter did more than a few things, having cobbled together more than 200,000 acres around Mount Katahdin to give to the people of Maine.

“I read somewhere that Katahdin is the most painted mountain in the country,” said artist Evelyn Dunphy on Wednesday afternoon, as she paused at the Portland Museum of Art during a tour of Church’s work in Maine.

“Many things could have happened to it that didn’t happen to it. That’s the thing that I’m very aware of when I paint it.”

It’s a fact not lost on those who knew the governor best.

During the 25 years that park director Jensen Bissell has worked in the park, he said one phrase has resounded in his head as he’s traveled repeatedly through the park, from Chamberlain and Telos lakes to the Knife’s Edge and the Tableland on Mount Katahdin:

“One man owned all this, and gave it all away.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: [email protected]