The pain and grief over the loss of four snowmobilers Dec. 30 on Rangeley Lake are still fresh, as the community prepares for its annual Snodeo snowmobile festival.

That pain became more evident last week as event organizers were publicly criticized by family and friends of one victim for planning to hold Snodeo from Jan. 24 to 26, even though three snowmobilers’ bodies have not yet been recovered from the lake.

Early last week, family members of one of the missing snowmobilers, Kenneth Henderson, 40, of China, spoke out in support of continuing Snodeo, saying it was what he would have wanted.

“This is just putting drama there that’s so displaced and wrong,” said Henderson’s mother-in-law, Maureen Brown of Vassalboro. “He was an avid snowmobiler. It’s a celebration, and he would be all for it.”

Brown says she sees Snodeo as a wonderful annual tradition in a community that has been extremely supportive of grieving families and friends.

“Why would we oppose an event that brings joy and prosperity to their community?” she said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

The search for Henderson, his cousin Glen Henderson, 43, of Sabattus, and their friend, John Spencer, 41, of Litchfield, was postponed Jan. 3 because weather and lake conditions were deemed unfit for the effort. A week earlier, searchers had found the body of snowmobiler Dawn Newell, 45, of Yarmouth, who also went into the lake the night of Dec. 30.

On Friday, Glen Henderson’s son, whose name also is Glen Henderson, posted a message on his Facebook page asking how anyone could ride, party and have a good time on “three men’s graves.”

A family friend of Glen Henderson, Missy Morgan of Lewiston, also posted a Facebook message Friday, saying “So, in case some of you don’t know they are still holding the annual Snodeo up in Rangeley Lake. So the ice is unsafe to get our friends and family out (of the water), but lets have a party on them instead. This is an outrage and all the news crews need to know.”

Morgan was at a fundraiser for Spencer’s family Saturday afternoon and did not return a call by early evening seeking comment.

Judy Morton, executive director of the Rangeley Lakes Chamber of Commerce, said only one Snodeo event, the Radar Run, is held on the lake itself. That event is held in Russell’s Cove, a shallow cove in a different part of the lake than where the snowmobilers are believed to be, she said.

Morton said organizers are considering moving the Radar Run to another area out of respect for the families of the missing snowmobilers, but the event is regulated by the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and she is not sure if that is possible now.

Snodeo, held for 24 years, raises money for the Rangeley Snowmobile Club to maintain trails for everyone to use and enjoy, Morton said. “They really don’t make much money on this festival; they hope to make a little money,” she said.

Families who attend the event book lodging a year in advance. Snodeo includes family snowmobile rides, a parade, casino night and cook-offs.

This year, activities will be held in memory of the snowmobilers, including a candlelight vigil Friday night, Jan. 25, Morton said.

Scott Brown, stepfather of Kenneth Henderson’s wife, Carolyn, said Saturday that he was in Rangeley during the recovery effort and witnessed the generosity, support and empathy of the Rangeley Lakes Chamber and the community in general.

Brown, of Cheshire, Mass., said he does not believe people should criticize the community for planning to hold Snodeo.

“This negativity … is a slap in the face to these people and also a slap in the face of the families and the town of Rangeley,” he said. “I know that Ken would not want this to be canceled on his account. It’s a beautiful town, and this tragedy is as much a tragedy for the town of Rangeley and the people who live there as it is for the families going through it.”

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

[email protected]