Citizen Of The Year

York’s Citizen Of The Year

Please help us recognize a deserving citizen who gives their time and talent for the benefit of our community by nominating them for Citizen of the Year. If you have nominated someone in the past – you may re-submit an application – each year many are nominated, but only one person is chosen annually.

Deadline for nominations is October 1, 2018. Download the 2018 Citizen of the Year Nomination Form here.

Selection: The Festival of Lights committee will review all nominations. This committee is comprised of York community members who then choose three finalists. These nominations are submitted to the York Region Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors who then make the final decision.

Criteria: Volunteer efforts must benefit the town of York. Nominee does not have to be a resident of York. Chamber Board of Directors are not eligible.
Winner will be announced at the Annual Chamber Member Dinner in November. The winner will be the Grand Marshal for the Festival of Lights Parade.

WINNER : 2017 Citizen Of The Year, James Kences

York historian James Kences was named the Greater York Region Chamber of Commerce 2017 Citizen of the Year. [Credits: Ioanna Raptis/Seacoastonline]

Below is the letter of nomination submitted by local resident and friend, Eileen Sewall.

James is a vault for York’s history.  His unique and brilliant mind retains all the details that he reads.  He spends hours pouring over town meeting minutes from colonial times in the Town Clerk’s vault.  He visits the archives at Old York Historical Society regularly and reads journals, letters, ledgers, and more to glean additional information.  And, of course, he reads published historical accounts as well.   One of James’ special gifts is his ability to make connections between these disparate sources of information, aided by his incredible recall of names and dates, to reach new conclusions about York’s history.

James is best known for his encyclopedic knowledge of York history and has put on nearly 20 history lectures at the York Public Library to share his passion with community members.    These lectures have covered all periods of York’s history, and are very detailed and specific.  James refers to specific quotes from various sources and shares handouts and reference material.  He devotes many hours of preparation for each week’s lecture, yet gives of his time generously, asking for no compensation for these presentations.

I also want to point out that these lectures are very well attended. I once counted 80 people in the room learning about what makes us York!  James always lingers after his presentations to speak to people and answer their specific questions.

In addition to the lecture series, James is a regular at Old York Historical Society, where he can be found engaging with the staff in discussions of history.  Staff consults him on topics on which they know him to be knowledgeable.  And they have, upon occasion, asked for his assistance in researching something relevant to an upcoming exhibit or school program.  James is always eager to help.

James also volunteers at Old York in other ways.  He has portrayed (in costume) the role of Jailer in the Old Gaol without need for a script (perhaps you saw him at Marketfest!).    He additionally works with the Junior Docents, a program for 11 to 15-year olds who seek special programming to deepen their knowledge of life in earlier times.  He also assisted Old York by leading tours of the Old Burying Ground for York’s 5th grade students when they come for the ever-popular “Living History” program.

In case that is not enough, I need to call your attention to the series of articles on York History that have been published in the York Weekly (more to come, I believe) with the editorial assistance of David Ramsay.  These articles serve to educate our residents, but also provide a written record of James’ vast knowledge.

The things I have mentioned so far are things that I have personally seen James do in the 3 or 4 years that I have known him.  Since I began this application, I have learned that James has also volunteered in York in many other ways.  He organized historical Town records for the Town Clerk.  He serves on the Green Team at York Hospital.  He assisted prominent regional historian Emerson “Tad” Baker, PhD research the Salem Witch Trials and other topics.   At Old York Historical Society he also photographed artifacts, transcribed letters, helped to inventory and catalog archival resources, and even mowed the lawns!  He spoke at the library about living with a disability and bullying and went into a classroom in the elementary school to speak to children about that same topic.  His contributions are many and varied.

Life has not been easy for James.  Autism alters the way he interacts with the world and limits his ability to hold a permanent job.  Many people came to know James a few years ago when he publicly alerted our community to his inability to find housing in York that he could afford (James is on disability), and was facing the sad reality of leaving the Town that he had called home for many years.  His campaign was successful with various people and organizations coming together to find him adequate accommodation.  He highlighted to Townspeople the important responsibility we have to care for our residents, no matter what special needs they may have, or what difficulties life may have presented to them.  This is part of our community pride, is it not?

James has more than repaid this act of community kindness by giving back to the residents in the best way he knows how – with his friendship, with his intelligence, with his devotion, and by sharing his extensive knowledge of the history of York and the surrounding area.

In summary, James is an important citizen in this community both due to the hours that he has committed to educating others about our history and, perhaps more importantly, for simply being James – a human mainframe computer who helps us understand where we, as a Town, came from.   His gift will outlive us all.   It is time that the name ‘James Kences’ is added to the annals of York History – as York’s 2017 Citizen of the Year.


Respectfully Submitted,

Eileen Sewall


Call Holly Roberts, Director, at 207-363-4422 or email