Chris and Linanne Gaunce stand in the parking lot of their business, Central Maine Motors Auto Group, on Tuesday in Waterville. The couple will be presented the Distinguished Community Service Award at Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Award Ceremony on Thursday. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — When the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 threatened to prevent Waterville Senior High School seniors from graduating in person, Chris and Linanne Gaunce sprung to action.

They put their heads together and devised a creative and safe way for seniors and their families to celebrate together. They cleared their auto dealership lots off Kennedy Memorial Drive and Airport Road, erected a large stage and welcomed vehicles in for socially distant commencement exercises. Seniors marched to the stage from their cars to receive diplomas.

The night was a great success, not only for the Gaunces, owners of Central Maine Motors Auto Group, but also for the students and their friends and families. The Gaunce’s son, Daniel, was among the graduates that year.

“The amount of effort that has gone into this is remarkable,” Waterville Senior High School Principal Brian Laramee said at the time. “We’re so thankful for their efforts.”

The Gaunces again hosted graduation at their dealership in 2021, as the pandemic persisted.

It is this commitment to community — and the Gaunces have repeatedly given of themselves in other ways — that has netted the couple the most prestigious award given annually by the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce, the 2023 Distinguished Community Service Award. They will be honored with the accolade Thursday night at the chamber’s 61st annual awards ceremony at the Waterville Elks Banquet Center. Eight others also will receive chamber awards with an audience of 400 at the sold-out event, according to chamber officials.


Chamber President and CEO Kimberly N. Lindlof praised the Gaunces Monday for their service to community.

“First and foremost is their genuine desire to move the needle — to truly help the greater community — and they like measured results,” Lindlof said Monday. “The second is their can-do attitude. If you have a problem, come prepared with a solution. If not, they are going to find a way around, over or above the issue to find a resolution.”

Chris Gaunce said Monday that he and his wife, who also have another son, CJ, were surprised to learn they were chosen for the award.

“We were extremely surprised,” he said. “There are a lot of great people who do a lot of great things, so we didn’t think that this was the time. We’re pretty humbled.”

2020 Waterville Senior High School graduate Dakota Libby sits on the roof of his family’s car among other graduates for commencement ceremonies in the parking lot of Central Maine Motors in Waterville in 2020. Morning Sentinel file photo

The Gaunces are the third generation to own and run the auto dealership. Chris Gaunce has been involved in organizations that include the Alfond Youth & Community Center, Waterville Rotary Club, Chamber and Central Maine Growth Council. Linanne Gaunce leads community engagement efforts for Central Maine Motors Auto Group, where the couple employs more than 200 people at seven locations. Linanne Gaunce also serves on the Chamber board, where she is co-chairperson of the Super Raffle Dinner and serves on the Taste of Waterville committee. She has spearheaded the Maine Children’s Home Christmas Program for the auto dealership, as well as the resident gift program for Northern Light Continuing Care Lakewood. She also was chairperson for the 2022 Cal Ripken Major/70 World Series event and helped with the annual Alfond Center Thanksgiving dinner and Festival of Trees.

The Gaunces also help to build the economic base, according to chamber officials. If the dealership meets its quarterly performance goals, for instance, each employee receives $100 worth of chamber certificates to spend at businesses that take part in the program.

“This is above and beyond their normal compensation packages and the goal is to spend their certificates locally and boost the region’s economic activity and to say ‘thank you’ to local business partners,” a statement from the chamber says. “Since 2016, the dealership has distributed over $448,000 worth of gift certificates that were spent locally.”

The Gaunces always praise their employees for their work, commitment and support, according to the chamber. They have consistently contributed to “uplifting businesses and individuals in the community” by supporting events such as the Annual Festival of Jewish Life, Central Maine Community Betterment Collaborative, and by sponsoring initiatives such as the Takeout Challenge. They also help develop internships with local technical schools, according to the chamber.

Others to be honored Thursday: Emalee Hall, of Dirigo Labs, with the Rising Star Award; Carla Caron, Waterville Area Soup Kitchen, Exceptional Volunteer of the Year Award; Karen Kelley-Grenier, Waterville Elks Banquet Center, Customer Service Stardom Award; Martha Wentworth, of Allen Insurance and Financial, Elias A. Joseph Award; Michael Phillips, O’Donnell Lee, P.A, Outstanding Professional of the Year Award; Paul Castonguay, assessor for City of Waterville, Municipal Employee of the Year Award; The Shyft Group/DuraMag-Magnum, Large Business of the Year Award; and Tiffany Lopes, Sunrise Bagel, Small Business of the Year Award.

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