READFIELD — The nearly 200 young ski racers on the slopes for the Marlee Johnston Alpine Ski Race to Remember wore bibs bought with money raised in the late Fayette resident’s honor, as was the equipment that timed the racers’ runs down the slalom courses.

Some of the gates they slashed through on the way down the hill also were bought using money from the Marlee Fund, and when the rope tow that takes them back up the hill recently broke down and needed a new motor, the fund helped pay for the repairs — which, incidentally, were completed by Marlee’s older brother, Alec, a Kents Hill School graduate and former ski racer there, who is now an electrical engineer.

The Marlee Fund also helps pay for a new program in which local youths go to the small ski area at Kents Hill for lessons two nights a week to learn how to ski and race on skis.

Between the annual ski race fundraiser, which drew competitors from several area middle and high schools to Kents Hill on a cold Saturday, and other events including a charitable motorcycle ride, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been raised in Marlee Johnston’s name in the just under 12 years since she was killed Nov. 26, 2005, by a neighboring teenager. She was 14 years old.

The money raised has given, and continues to give, local children a chance to learn to ski and race at Kents Hill’s Joanne and Dick O’Connor Alpine Training Center in Readfield, some of whom wouldn’t be able to otherwise, and provides scholarships to allow local youths to attend Kents Hill School, again including some students who probably wouldn’t be able to afford it without the financial help.

“Yes, that’s our goal. That’s the whole idea,” Marlee’s father, Ted Johnston, said when asked if money raised in Marlee’s honor is enabling local youths to ski at the alpine center or attend the private school.

Kents Hill officials said Ted Johnston, his wife and Marlee’s mother, Marlene Thibodeau, and their son, Alec, have been amazing in working to create a positive legacy out of something so painful.

“The Johnstons are an incredible family to, only 11 years (after Marlee’s death), to be able to affect so many kids positively,” said Matthew Crane, a friend of the family and assistant head of school for advancement at Kents Hill. “To take something so tragic, so unthinkable, and turn it into something positive for the kids, some who wouldn’t be able to do this otherwise, that’s the legacy.”

Out on the slopes, many racers wore colorful clothing, as well as colorful leis, which were given to each racer in recognition of Marlee’s preference for colorful, unique clothing.

Nathan Delmar, a Maranacook senior, competed in Marlee’s Race to Remember for the seventh time Saturday. He said he likes the fact that money raised in her honor helps pay for equipment for the ski area at Kents Hill, where Marlee used to ski and where she had planned to attend high school, and for programs that help get local youths skiing on the slopes.

“It’s a great opportunity to get kids who might not otherwise do it involved in skiing,” Delmar said, after taking a practice run while wearing his lei. “This race has such a nice, friendly atmosphere.”

Delmar said Marlee’s race inspired him to host his own charitable ski race, last year, which raised money to help fight hunger.

Ted Johnston said Marlee, were she alive to witness Saturday’s race and the money raised by it and other events in her honor, would think it was “cool” that so many children were enjoying themselves skiing and racing.

“She’d love the fact that kids are skiing,” he said, “but she wouldn’t want it in her own name. She was not an attention-seeker.”

Marlee Johnston attended Fayette Elementary School and was in her last year at Winthrop Middle School when she was killed. She had planned, like Alec, to attend Kents Hill School the following year.

She was taking her two dogs for a walk Nov. 26, 2005, when she stopped to ask a friend, 14-year-old Patrick Armstrong, to join her. At some point, Armstrong returned to his home to retrieve a baseball bat, which he used to kill Marlee.

Armstrong pleaded guilty to her murder in 2006 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Ted Johnston said Alec, who was 17 at the time of his sister’s death, came up with the idea for, and continues to organize, the annual ski race to honor Marlee.

The various fundraising events for the Marlee Fund have brought in about $270,000 for a scholarship fund that helps pay for two local day students to attend Kents Hill School, plus another $50,000 used to buy equipment and fund programming on the ski hill, and money to pay for several girls a year to attend Olympic luger Julia Clukey’s Summer Camp for Girls at Camp KV in Readfield.

Participation and interest in Saturday’s race was so great that the ski area parking lot was full, with cars parked along Route 41 for several hundred feet on both sides of the ski area entrance.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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