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An ‘amazing guy’: Kennebunk store owners remember former president George H.W. Bush

Former president George H.W. Bush (front left) and wife Barbara Bush (right) at the wedding of longtime friends Helen Thorgalsen (center) and Bonnie Clement in Kennebunkport, Maine, in 2013. Susan Biddle/Associated Press

Among the many people whom former President George H.W. Bush left an impression on during his time in Maine were the customers and staff at H.B. Provisions, a popular general store in Kennebunk.

“An amazing guy,” said Helen Thorgalsen, whose wife, Bonnie Clement, owns the general store. “He was so friendly, so warm, so kind. He knew everybody. He remembered everybody’s name after just meeting you once. He always took the time to greet people; before cellphones he would sign autographs and in later years take pictures with people. He was always gracious.”

Clement and Thorgalsen became close with the Bushes after the store opened in 2002, and the former president and first lady attended their wedding in 2013.

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The president who famously spurned broccoli enjoyed the donuts at H.B. Provisions, which describes itself on its website as a business that provides “a friendly, warm environment where customers feel a connection . . . that extends beyond the products.”

“He used to love to pop in, especially after church, and grab a doughnut and have a cup of coffee,” Thorgalsen said by phone from the store. “That was one of his things that he did; stop in and find out what the gossip was.”

She said customers over the weekend were talking about the passing of Bush, who died Friday night at age 94. The Bush family compound is located in nearby Kennebunkport.

“People were all talking about it and reflecting,” Thorgalsen said.

Mourners also had an opportunity to reflect at the Kennebunkport church the Bushes attended.

On Sunday, St. Ann’s By The Sea Episcopal Church, a summer chapel normally closed in December, opened its doors over the weekend to allow mourners to pay tribute to the 41st commander-in-chief.

“[W]e wanted to make it possible for folks to be at St. Ann’s both yesterday and Saturday,” said Rev. Peter G. Cheney, chaplain of St. Ann’s, in an email Monday. “There was a steady stream of visitors each day, including some of our members who are in the area all year.”

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The church also shared a 14-year-old photo over the weekend from C.A. Smith Photography, a local studio, of Bush smiling broadly after his annual skydiving excursion to mark his birthday.

In the Facebook post, St. Ann’s thanked “Cyndi Smith from CA Smith Photography, of Kennebunk, for this wonderful photo of #41 at Saint Ann’s, after he parachuted onto the church grounds to celebrate his 80th birthday!”

Smith had posted several photos over the weekend of Bush and his family.

“Just a few favorites of a great man and his family,” Smith wrote Sunday in her original Facebook post. “Having photographed countless events in KPT, Texas, Washington and Philadelphia and having thousands of images to cherish over the 20 plus years we knew him, I have to say he lived a meaningful life and was a very kind person. RIP 41.”

Bush died less than a year after his wife, Barbara Bush, who passed in April at the age of 92.

Thorgalsen and Clement, of H.B. Provisions in Kennebunk, had shared recollections of the former first lady back in the spring.

In an April interview, Clement described her as a “terrific, lovely, wonderful, and sincere” woman who was a good friend and very much in tune with the local community.

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“We’ve just known her for so long,” Clement said in April. “We were so honored” when the Bushes attended the couple’s wedding.

They also posted a tribute message on the store’s Facebook page after Barbara Bush’s death.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Bush family,” the April post read. “Goodbye dear friend to the world. You now can [breathe] deeply. You leave us all with wonderful memories and life lessons.”

Clement said at the time that Barbara Bush was a role model who even set an example in the way that she died, on her own terms, and surrounded by her family.

“We learned a lot of lessons from her, right to the bitter end,” Clement said. “She’s an icon. There will never be another Barbara Bush.”


Emily Sweeney of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.