Presque Isle restaurant owner named Maine’s Mother of the Year

3 weeks ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Sherry Sullivan of Presque Isle is Maine’s 2024 Mother of the Year.

Sullivan, who co-owns and operates Governor’s and Ferris BBQ restaurants in Presque Isle, is one of 50 state Mothers of the Year recognized by national nonprofit American Mothers Inc. 

The organization started in 1935 when Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to honor what mothers do for their families and communities, said Lisa Newell, president of the Maine Chapter of American Mothers and the 2023 Maine Mother of the Year. Sullivan was among 14 Maine nominees. The announcement comes appropriately just before Mother’s Day, which is Sunday, May 12.

For Sullivan, a mother of four and grandmother of eight, parenting arises from the heart. 

“I’m not a mother because I want to be recognized as a mother. It’s because it’s what you do,” she said Monday. “There are so many other people that are deserving of an honor like this.”

Sullivan grew up in Brewer. Her father was an electrician and often traveled for work, while her mother raised four daughters and took care of the house, she said. The family enjoyed the outdoors at camp in the summer and raked blueberries to buy school clothes, just like Aroostook kids picked potatoes to earn money. 

She and her husband, Presque Isle native Tony Sullivan, moved to Aroostook County in 1996 with their four young children to launch a new Governor’s Restaurant site in Presque Isle. 

While raising the kids and working in a busy restaurant, Sullivan participated in Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce functions and community theater.  

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — May 6, 2024 — Sherry Sullivan of Presque Isle is Maine’s 2024 Mother of the Year. (Courtesy of American Mothers)

The family has multiplied. Eldest daughter Lauren and her husband, Jake Kenneson, have three children: Ethan, Isabelle and Elyse. Daughter Erin Sullivan and her partner, Jeremiah Lowe, have Oliver, twins Ashton and Elliott, and baby girl Reagan. Son Matthew, who is a partner in the family restaurant business, is married to Brooke and the two have a son, Parker, with another child is expected in September. The youngest son, Brady, is married to Alina.

“I think it’s amazing that our children have chosen to stay here,” Sullivan said. “We raised our children in this community, and they’ve chosen to stay here and build careers and families.” 

Her kids may not have been perfect, but they were perfect to her, she said. They were good citizens and they were kind, which was all she could have wanted.

She found out about the honor on a stormy night while helping out at Ferris BBQ. The restaurant was packed. When the first call came from Maine chapter officials, she didn’t recognize the number and kept on working. She answered the second call.  

Her reaction, she said, was “Why me?”

As a business owner, chamber member, mom and grandmother, Sullivan understands local needs and the importance of having a strong community, Newell said.

“Sherry embodies what American Mothers embodies: being empowered to positively impact her family and community, dedicated to family, having strong family values,” she said. “She understands the spirit of community [and] the importance of volunteers and friendship.”

Each year, Maine officials send nominations to the national American Mothers chapter, who makes final selections. Fourteen is a high number from the state, Newell said. Last year there were 10. 

Nominees must be the biological, adoptive or foster mother of at least one child and be dedicated to strengthening family relationships, exemplify the Golden Rule, possess inner strength to deal with successes and challenges, and be active in their communities, according to American Mothers.

The national organization selects Mothers of the Year for each state and a National Mother of the Year, who for 2024 is Jenessa Fillipi of Minnesota, Newell said. 

The Maine chapter donates quilts, gathers socks for the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, knits hats and mittens for children and also presents an achievement award to a mother who has impacted her community, she said. Last year’s honoree was 103-year-old Virginia Oliver, known as the “Lobster Lady of Rockland.”

Sullivan is the 80th honoree in the state chapter’s history. The first was Beulah Akeley in 1945, who also hailed from Presque Isle.

Tony Sullivan said many mothers are worthy of recognition, but his wife’s Mother of the Year honor is well-deserved.  

“I’m just extremely proud of her and I think it’s a great honor to represent mothers,” he said on Monday. “I’m so proud of her for being the person that she is.”

Sullivan not only supports her own children, but continues to be a mother figure and mentor to many others along the way, said Lauren Kenneson, the couple’s eldest daughter.

“I love her and she’s always been a big support to us,” Kenneson said. “She’s a mother to the community and to all of her employees as well, and I think she takes her leadership role very seriously. She deserves all the praise she gets.”

Sullivan said her father is gone, but she and her husband are blessed to have his father and both their mothers. She shared some poignant advice.

“Our mothers get older. Spend time with them,” she said. “I still call my mom almost every day.”