Stepping outside the Maine State House on a 34-degree day wearing only a blue pantsuit and Tevas over a pair of socks, Gov. Janet Mills looked every bit the native Mainer she is when she met a small Bates contingent who came to Augusta for the ceremonial Winter Carnival torch lighting. 

The lighting was hampered a bit by a south breeze, so Connor Gerraughty ’26 of Hartsdale, N.Y., offered an assist, cupping his hand around wick and lighter — soon, a cheer went up from the small group that included relay driver David Nimura ’25 of New York City, Catie Luedee, Bates coordinator of Outdoor Education and Programs, and Ben Goodman, Mills’ press secretary.

Connor Gerraughty ’26 of Hartsdale, N.Y., poses with the torch outside the Maine State House in Augusta before Maine Gov. Janet Mills arrived to light the Winter Carnival torch today, Feb. 9, 2024. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

It was the second time Mills participated in the torch tradition, which was created by the Bates Outing Club in 1958, when then-Maine Gov. Ed Muskie ’36 lit the torch to kick off that year’s Olympic-themed Winter Carnival. 

With the torch lit, Mills joined in the send off, cheering good luck, and adding with encouragement: “Run, run, run. You’re getting ready for the Olympics!” Then the state leader in Mills kicked in, as she added with some humor: “Stay off the interstate,” (a route that would be illegal on foot).

As the governor turned to leave, she reflected on the merit in such a long-standing outdoor tradition.

“It’s a great way to get people outdoors, to call attention to what you can do in Maine in the outdoors in the middle of winter,” said Mills, an avid angler. “And they are brave souls in my view. I respect and admire their gumption and I think that’s what outing clubs are all about — getting outdoors, enjoying the fresh air and the Maine scenery, and God bless them. Safe journey back to Bates College.”

Catie Luedee (right), Bates coordinator of outdoor education and programs, hands the Winter Carnival tiki torch to Connor Gerraughty ’26 of Hartsdale, N.Y., as relay driver David Nimura ’25 (left) of New York City looks on at the Maine State Capital, where the three were waiting for Gov. Janet Mills to arrive. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Meanwhile, Gerraughty ran the torch a short distance before handing it off to Luedee and running on to the next leg in Farmingdale. (Student members of the Bates Running Club and Outing Club run the entire 30-mile distance from State House to Bates, but the torch itself takes a quicker route, with Luedee in a vehicle, freeing up the students to cover the distance in better time.) 

When the torch arrives at Bates, it’s turned over to a Bates runner, who brings it to Lake Andrews to light a bonfire to kick off a Winter Carnival tradition, the Puddle Jump. 

This year, the final leg was run by a special guest. In Lewiston just beyond campus, relay runners Levi Mindlin ’24 of Portland, Ore., and Lucy Pike ’24 of Woodside, Cal., ran together to the Dairy Joy at the corner of Sabattus and College streets to pass the proverbial torch on to the last leg: Jon Lee, husband of Bates President Garry W. Jenkins and an avid runner. Lee was invited by the Outing Club to join the relay two weeks ago.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (left) cheers with Connor Gerraughty ’26 of Hartsdale, N.Y., after the governor lit the ceremonial Bates Winter Carnival torch outside the Maine State House on Friday morning. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

At Dairy Joy, Lee gave the two runners a high five, then ran down Campus Avenue to College Street, where he continued his 1-mile leg on to Lake Andrews. Shortly before, Luedee gave Lee the torch to run with onto campus, and on to light the bonfire. Lee said he asked for a shorter leg in the relay because he was sick earlier in the week. He still wanted to participate in the traditional run.

Jon J. Lee, husband of Bates President Garry W. Jenkins — and a running enthusiast, carries the torch around Lake Andrews en route to the bonfire wood pile that Lee lit to mark the traditional start of the Winter Carnival. The students in the Bates Outing Club and Running Club asked Lee if he would run a leg in the torch relay, knowing how much he loves to run. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

The other members of the Bates Outing Club and Bates Running Club who ran legs in the relay were Will Morris ’27 of Wayland, Mass., Ted Lutton ’24 of Glencoe, Ill., Faith Nwando ’24 of Jamaica, N.Y., Sacha Feldberg ’24 of Potomac, Md., Ellie Schueler ’25 of Colorado Springs, Colo., and Alex Sandulli ’27 of Salt Lake City, Utah.