AUBURN — About 90 people gathered Thursday night to honor this year’s Auburn Business Association citizen of the year, Jim Wellehan.

Several speakers described Wellehan’s ongoing positive effect on the community. Wellehan, who did not know that he was the recipient before the event, received his award graciously.

Citizen of the Year is an honor bestowed on an Auburnite who exemplifies the principles promoted by the ABA,  such as “success in business, giving back to the community and visibility in the community,” said ABA President Peter Murphy.

Attendees at the event, held at Lost Valley Ski Area, praised Wellehan’s commitment to the community, his participation in programs such as Scouting and Recreation Department sports programs, and his passion for the environment. Wellehan, who owns Lamey-Wellehan Shoes, has been involved in local political, business and community associations for more than three decades.

“He’s a needler,” said former Maine Supreme Court Justice Robert Clifford, who grew up with Wellehan and was one of the speakers at the ceremony, “and he’s extremely smart.”

Speaking before Wellehan arrived, Tookie Clifford, also a longtime friend of Wellehan, talked about his “great sense of humor,” and called him a “tireless innovator.”

“There are some people out there who, the more there is to do, the more they’ll do,” said Greg Whitney, secretary of the Auburn Business Association. “Not a lot of businesspeople think the way he does,” he said, referring to Wellehan’s longtime passion for environmentally conscious business practices.

Last year, Wellehan worked with Mayor Dick Gleason to develop a city energy committee and has worked with the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce to develop programs to make local businesses more efficient. In the past several years, Wellehan has reduced the carbon emissions of Lamey-Wellehan by 30 percent, and hopes to increase that number to 50 percent by 2020.

In 2007, he was recognized as the Maine Sierra Club’s Business Leader of the Year, and in 1994 he was given the Governor’s Waste Management Award by former Gov. John McKernan for recycling 95 percent of the solid waste produced by Lamey-Wellehan. Jim and his wife, Cathy, have worked for years to increase recycling and to promote other environmentally friendly programs in the Twin Cities.

Lucy Hill, who works for Lamey-Wellehan, described her boss as “an intellectual humanitarian.”

Wellehan “has a passion for life and what he cares about,” said Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce President Chip Morrison, “and that’s his business, his family, the environment, and helping others.”

“He’ll be humble, maybe embarrassed,” Morrison said moments before Wellehan arrived at 6:30 p.m. He seemed surprised by the crowd that met him at the entrance to the lobby. “Well, thank you, but I think you’re mistaken,” he said. And, joking, added, “But really, I think you’ve chosen a great guy.”

“He had no idea,” Cathy Wellehan said.

After dinner, the award ceremony began. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins sent letters of warm congratulations. U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud, who mentioned Wellehan and the award on the floor of the House of Representatives, sent a plaque commemorating Wellehan’s entrance into the Congressional Record. Statements of praise and congratulations were also read from Lewiston Mayor Larry Gilbert, Auburn Mayor Dick Gleason and Gov. Paul LePage.  

“We are very fortunate that you call this community your home,” read part of Gilbert’s statement.

Wellehan was awarded a key to the city, which granted him “free access through the community, but it doesn’t unlock the exit door to let (him) out,” said Auburn City Councilor Robert Hayes.

Lamey-Wellehan is a “business known for high quality, good value and is considered one of Maine’s best employers,” Clifford said during the ceremony.

“Jim Wellehan has contributed many verses on many levels to the powerful play that is life,” said Mark Terison, Wellehan’s brother-in-law, who spoke during the ceremony. “When trouble rears its head, Jim and Cathy can be counted on to help, in ways big and small.”

Chris Stanley, introduced as Wellehan’s right-hand man at Lamey-Wellehan, said of his boss, “He calls himself a peacenik, tree-hugging, left-wing, liberal extremist,” at which point Wellehan loudly interjected “and socialistic!”

“Well, I just call him extremely intelligent,” Stanley said.

Wellehan was thankful and humble. “This is a little embarrassing for me,” he said after taking the podium. “I’m appreciative to all the people in my life … Thank you so much.”