Just days after the 2019 Acadian Festival ended its successful run, community members and volunteers buzzed about what a great job the festival committee did, specifically the president, Chris Braley.
Though Braley didn’t begin his life in The County, he has taken root in the Acadian community and, with hard work and leadership, turned the most recent Acadian Festival into the event of the year.
Originally from Dixmont, a little drive outside of Bangor, Braley said he moved to The County because of his wife, Mindy. Love blossomed in an AOL chat room and brought the 26-year-old Braley to The County, a year after he met Mindy online.
”She wears her heart on her sleeve, so you can tell … if there’s a story, or if there’s something going on with somebody else, you can tell it bothers her,” he said. “And it’s like that for a lot of people up here.”
The now 43-year-old said when he drove up to The County for the first time, he thought he was “going to be buried in a potato field.”
“My family told me I was nuts, that I wouldn’t last six months because of the winter, but I am still here,” he said. “I had no idea where I was headed to, but the area was beautiful.”
Braley settled in and started working with Mindy at MBNA America’s call center in Fort Kent, where he said he got to know a lot of local people.
“There’s a sense of pride in people up here,” he said. “Pride in their work, their homes. It’s not the same anywhere else, for sure.”
Though he didn’t know at first he’d be here this long, he loves the region. His only complaint is that he misses being close to a city.
“The people are the best part,” he said. “People are genuinely nice up here and they are very caring people.”
After their son Cody was born, Mindy and Chris both took medical leave from work because their son suffered some significant medical issues during birth that almost cost him his life. During Cody’s hospital stay, they lived nearby at the Ronald McDonald House in Bangor.
“People we hardly knew pooled money together to help us out,” Chris recalled. “And that was the first thing. It was like ‘Wow. These people are really nice, they’re really generous, they’re really caring for people that they don’t even know.’”
Cody made it through.
Eventually, Braley went to work for Autotronics and developed good relationships with more townfolk, including public officials. Four and a half years later, he began a new position at Twin Rivers as the environmental health and safety specialist, where he has remained ever since.
In 2013, he and Mindy undertook a new venture: an ice cream truck, which they took to the Acadian Festival. They discovered there was a shortage of help on the committee, so they decided to volunteer.
“One, it helps them out, and two, it would benefit our [ice cream truck] as well,” said Braley.
As they traveled from festival to festival with the ice cream truck, the couple learned a lot about what people like at such events, and what does and doesn’t work. As a committee member, Braley used that knowledge to help better the Acadian Festival.
In 2014 and 2015, he said, he volunteered to just do anything he could do. In 2018, he became president of the Acadian Festival Committee, a feat he took on while working a full-time job.
“Under the darkness of night, I organize the Acadian Festival,” he said.
His favorite part of the event is seeing everyone have fun.
“The payoff is when everyone is actually able to enjoy it. That’s when you get to see the fruit of your labor,” he said.
Braley plans to remain in The County as long as his kids stay, which he hopes they will do.
“If you want to live here, you have to love it here,” he said. “I love it here.”