WINTHROP — Twenty-six years ago, Andy and Sheree Wess bought a motel property in need of work on the north end of Lake Cobbossee in East Winthrop.
“We walked out of closing wondering, ‘How are we going to pay for this? We don’t know anything about running a motel,’” Andy Wess recalled.
They learned on the job.
Today, Lakeside Motel, Cabins & Marina property of 38 units is shipshape and a popular destination for people seeking to fish for bass or vacation with families.
It’s also the site of an annual bass fishing tournament that raises thousands of dollars for Special Olympics Maine.
For their business acumen, community involvement and charitable work, the Wesses are slated to receive a President’s Award at the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s annual awards banquet Jan. 25 at the Augusta Civic Center.
“The President’s Award recognizes a business that has made a significant contribution to the community that has experienced a level of hard work and innovation,” said Peter Thompson, the chamber’s president and CEO. “That is what helps businesses survive, and has a unique role in the community.”
He said the Wesses have a unique, popular lakeside resort in central Maine.
“I’m kind of taken aback that we find ourselves in this position,” Andy Wess said. “We try to serve our customers well and fairly and raise money for charities that have something to do with our personal lives.”
Lakeside Motel Cabins & Marina is open year-round. In the colder months, it houses legislators who work at the State House in nearby Augusta and construction workers, as well as people who like to snowmobile and ice fish.
“The place is as full as it can get Memorial Day through Labor Day,” Andy Wess said. “Eighty percent of guests are repeat customers.”
Andy Wess, 60, who grew up in central New Jersey, worked a a carpenter and a foreman.
“I basically was looking for a change of environment, and my mom had moved up here,” he said. “The opportunity to purchase this property came up. It was in bad shape but it was a good investment.”
Sheree Wess, 56, is from Sherman.
Today, their home is in the same building as their office, with a cozy kitchen and a family room looking out over the lake.
Along working hard at their business, the Wesses are big supporters of Special Olympics Maine, sponsoring an annual open bass fishing tournament benefit for the last 26 years.
“We must have raised at least $100,000, and it all goes back to contestants and the Special Olympics organization,” said Sheree Wess.
The money supports Special Olympics Maine athletes in the Kennebec Valley as well as regional and state competitors.
“Andy and Sheree are certainly more than just longtime volunteers who run an annual event,” said Philip Geelhoed, president and CEO of Special Olympics Maine. “They’re good friends of the program and have a deep, genuine interest for what we do and who our program serves.”
Special Olympics Maine currently serves more than 3,500 athletes a year, Geelhoed said.
“The Special Olympics tournament fits in with what we do: fishing and family,” Andy Wess said.
The Wesses sponsor the tournament and private donors help cover the costs. Their next one will be in May 2013.
“We have a daughter with developmental disabilities and that brought us to the Special Olympics,” Sheree Wess said. “She’s been participating since she’s been 8 in equestrian, track and field, and bowling events.”
Their daughter, Carrie Ann Wess, is now 33 years old and also lives in Winthrop. A son, Timothy, lives in Madison, and another son, Bill, lives in Ballston Spa, N.Y.
They’re appreciative of neighbors’ support as well.
In 2005, they hosted the B.A.S.S. Federation’s Eastern Divisional Tournament, attracting 12 teams of 14 boats each. Accommodating the sheer numbers of boats posed a challenge for the Wesses, who alerted their neighbors along the short Turtle Run Road.
“We got at letter back from the (condominium association) telling us what part of their lawn we could park on,” Andy Wess said.
Betty Adams — 621-5631