Ken Murphy wanted to party like it was 1897.

“My forefathers started this with friends, and it was a tradition I heard about growing up,” said Murphy, who revived what had been known decades earlier as the Empire Reindeer Christmas Club. “They started a party to get together at the holidays and help other people who didn’t have much. I have a couple of old photographs, and the earliest was from 1897.”

Intrigued by sepia-toned images of soirees hosted by his grandfather’s great-grandfather, Murphy revived the tradition in 2006 with an invite-only party at his home in South Portland.

“It’s about the tradition of giving,” said Nick Dambrie, the Portland Yacht Club member who suggested Murphy move the party from Murphy’s home to the yacht club, where it has been for the past 12 years. “We started giving to Toys for Tots 11 years ago, and we’ve contributed just shy of $150,000.”

Between 150 guests paying $75 each for tickets to the sold-out dinner-dance with the Delta Knights and bidding on silent auction items, the Empire Reindeer Christmas Club’s party on Dec. 1 raised $20,000.

“We have been coming for 10 years,” said Wendy Yale, whose husband Skip Yale is the vice commodore of the Portland Yacht Club. “At first, we thought it sounded rather formal and expensive, but it’s going to Toys for Tots, and it’s so worth it. It’s always sold out.”

The Empire Reindeer Christmas Club partners with the U.S. Marines, which oversees Toys for Tots in half the counties in Maine. Eight Marines stationed in Brunswick attended the party in full dress uniform, including Gunnery Sergeant Andrew Roberson, a young father.

“This is the community taking care of the community, and no one does that better than Maine,” Roberson said. “We provide toys for ages 0 to 18, and a lot of people don’t think about the babies or the 18-year-olds. This allows us to fill the gaps. Every toy donated in Maine stays in Maine, and to the best of our ability, every dollar donated in Maine stays in Maine.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and editor based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

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