Kennebunk’s Christmas tree, which will be lit at 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30, was given in memory of Mary Tanner by a friend, Donna Merrill-Walls. Pausing for a photo after the tree was placed at the Tibbetts Plaza downtown were Shawn Minotti of the town’s Public Works Department, Merrill-Walls, Kennebunk Public Works crew members Nate Jackson, Chase Stone, Kevin Renk, and Barry Flint, along with Chad Moreside and Cody Couturier of Kennebunk Light and Power. Courtesy Photo by Tim Ames

KENNEBUNK – Each year during the  holiday season, an evergreen tree that graces a downtown takes on a special significance.

When the Christmas tree is lit at 5 p.m in Tibbetts Plaza on Main Street on Saturday, Nov. 30, Santa will be there to greet everyone, especially the children. He arrives in a sleigh, and later, if the ice is right, will skate with people at Waterhouse Center.

This year, the towering blue spruce is tied to Kennebunk in a particular way. It was donated by a woman who was raised in Arundel, graduated from Kennebunk High School in 1978 and was a friend of Mary Ellen Tanner, the 18-year-old who was found dead in Lyman in early July that year. Her death has been classified as a homicide.

Donna Merrill-Walls, who now lives in Sanford with her husband Eugene, said she’d been thinking of donating the tree for a couple of years. She knew if she did so, it would be in memory of her friend.

At her Sanford home late last week, Merrill-Walls talked a bit about Mary Tanner. There were a few photos, of Mary at her prom, and an earlier photo that shows her in a majorette uniform, marching in a parade.

“We used to hang around together, we all did,” said Merrill-Walls of her group of friends.


“We all traveled in the same circles,” said Tim Ames, who was also a friend. “Mary was a lovely girl.”

Merrill-Walls, a member of the group Justice for Mary, said the tree, now about 30 feet high, was around 7 feet tall when she moved to her Sanford home 13 years ago. When she decided this was the year to donate the tree to the town of Kennebunk, she knew it would be in memory of Tanner.

“It’s beautiful,” she said of the towering evergreen.

The tree was carefully cut down by Kennebunk Public Works crew members, assisted by workers from Kennebunk Light and Power District, on Nov, 21. It was secured to a flatbed truck and driven from Sanford to Kennebunk, where it was placed in Tibbetts Plaza downtown. Trimmings were to go up a day or so later – readying the tree for its lighting debut on Saturday.

The lighting caps a busy Saturday in Kennebunk. First, there’s Pajama Shopping Day, a morning event sponsored by the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport Arundel Chamber of Commerce and a lot more.

Linda Johnson of Kennebunk Parks and Recreation said there’s a skate swap at Waterhouse Center from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. that day. From 11 to noon, the event is swap only; from noon to 1 p.m., swap or purchase, she said. People may bring skates to swap, or purchase skates for a $10 donation. Children get top priority.


As well, the Brick Store Museum opens for a story, crafts and cookies at 10 a.m. and Kennebunk Free Library will host a craft session from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Starting about 4:15 p.m., people will start to gather near the plaza, and cider, popcorn and other treats will be offered by local merchants. At 4:45 p.m., the Kennebunk High School Chamber choir and Kennebunk Elementary School Choir will sing carols. Then, at 5 p.m., the sleigh, with Santa aboard, arrives and the tree will be lit.

After, those who wish to will adjourn across the street to Waterhouse Center, to skate with the jolly old elf, if the ice surface is suitable for skating. And while Santa is a busy fellow this time of year, Johnson said he always makes sure he greets every youngster who comes out for the event.

The lights on the tree will be shining, a tree given in memory of a teen girl who was part of the fabric of the community.

“This tree is a beautiful tribute to a Kennebunk girl,” said Ames.

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