When people praise Pat Packard for her tireless work over the past 25 years, helping make the Saco River Theatre in Bar Mills a success, she is quick to point out she was not alone.

“So many people have made that theater come to life that I shouldn’t get so much credit for it,” said Packard, 78. “But I will talk about it. It is my very favorite subject.”

Packard’s whole family has been integral in turning the 118-year-old grange hall into a thriving center of arts and culture in a rural village, as have volunteers and community members.

But Packard has been the face of the theater and its mission for so many.

She booked shows at the theater for many years, put up posters and set out the intermission snacks. Her son, Dana Packard, is now the nonprofit theater’s executive director and his wife, Jennifer Porter, is artistic director. But it’s Packard’s smiling face that greets people at the dozen or so concerts and three plays held there each year. Her hands still take the tickets from people entering the 175-seat venue.

“Pat is as much a part of the theater as the stage, the lights and the audience,” said Maurine Lucas, a volunteer at the theater.


Packard, who grew up in small-town Vermont, traces her passion for the theater to her early belief in the strong connection between the arts and rural life. She studied nursing at the University of Vermont, as well as art. Her husband, Dr. Andrew Packard, had been a music major and became a radiologist. Once he got a job practicing in the Portland area, the couple decided to buy a house in the Buxton village of Bar Mills.

Packard and her family bought an abandoned one-room schoolhouse in the 1970s and moved it to their backyard as a place for them to put on plays. The family bought the grange hall that now houses the theater and renovated it in 1990 as an extension of the backyard arts philosophy.

Dana Packard and Jennifer Porter founded The Originals theater company in 1988, and were already putting on productions in Maine. The grange hall would give them a permanent home for the next 25 years.

Since 1990, the theater has hosted 75 theater productions and hundreds of concerts, silent films, dances and other events. Many touring national artists have made the trek to rural Buxton to play the venue, including blues legend James Cotton and Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas.

Packard remembers being asked by a reporter in 1990, when the theater was about to open, what events would be held there. She just started listing events that traditionally happen in grange halls, including concerts, silent films and dances, and soon performers from all over Maine were calling the Packards wanting to contribute to the new venue. The local schools’ theater programs, which had developed many talented performers, also were a help.

“It was letting the genie out of the bottle,” Packard said. “There is all this love for the arts and talent here (in the Buxton area), it was all here already, it just needed someone to take the cork off of the bottle.”

– Ray Routhier

Read all of our profiles of Mainers to be thankful for in 2015.

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