Keeping French heritage alive in central Maine

Some of the students who participate in the Maine French Language Heritage program. (contributed photo)

by Eric W. Austin

“French is French,” Charles Hicks tells me adamantly over coffee at Pat’s Pizza, on State Street. Hicks is the coordinator and sole teacher for the Maine French Heritage Language Program, in Augusta. He’s lamenting the idea that the French spoken in Maine isn’t perceived as “real” French.

Maine has a rich French heritage with nearly one-third of our residents having French in their background. That heritage is evidenced by the many French names of towns in Maine, among them Calais, Caribou, Montville, Presque Isle and, of course, Paris, just to name a few.

“There was a time when they would beat kids in elementary school for speaking French,” Hicks says, “so it totally made sense that you wouldn’t want to teach your kids something that would get them hurt.” But in consequence, much of the French language and Maine’s deep French legacy is being lost.

The Maine French Heritage Language Program (MFHLP) looks to change that. Established six years ago by Julia Schulz, who also co-founded the prestigious Penobscot School of Language Learning and Cultural Exchange, in Rockland, and Chelsea Ray, an associate professor of French Language and Literature, at the University of Maine at Augusta, MFHLP is a nonprofit after-school French language and culture program for children in grades first through sixth. Held from 3-5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Buker Community Center, in Augusta, the program is open to any interested students in central Maine.

Charles Hicks

Hicks himself has had a roundabout trip on the way to his position as coordinator of Augusta’s Maine French Heritage Language Program. Growing up in western Massachusetts, on the border with New York, his first experience with the French language came in college where he was, initially, a political science major. After spending his junior year abroad in France, he fell in love with the language and culture. It inspired him to pursue his master’s degree in the French language at the University of Maine at Orono. This led to a two-year stint in Fort Kent, an Aroostook County town in northern Maine with a large Franco-American population, followed by another prolonged stay in France as part of an advanced graduate program.

On returning to the states, Hicks spent 12 years as a traveling French language teacher to students in grades K-6 for schools in Manchester, Wayne and Mount Vernon. After budget cuts in 2007 killed the French language programs in many Maine elementary schools, Hicks took a position with MFHLP as a French teacher. When the coordinator left a few years later, Hicks embraced the dual roles of sole teacher for the program and also coordinator for its nonprofit fundraising efforts.

In addition to those duties, Hicks also teaches at Lawrence Junior High School, in Fairfield, and is an Adjunct Professor of French at Kennebec Valley Community College, in Fairfield.

There are nine central Maine students in this year’s Maine French Heritage Language Program, seven from Augusta and two from Waterville, although Hicks would like to see that number increase to 20 in order to have enough students to organize both a beginner and an advanced class. Currently, all students are taught together. The program teaches children French language and culture through the use of fun activities and games, and with cultural excursions to places like the Maine State Museum. The program costs $9/class or $18/week per student.

On Saturday, April 27, 2019, the Maine French Heritage Language Program will host its big annual fundraiser, “Springtime in Paris,” from 6 – 9:30 p.m., at Le Club Calumet, on West River Road, in Augusta. The event features French food and music, as well as both a live and silent auction in order to raise money for the program. They are looking for people interested in attending, at $40 per person, or sponsoring a table of eight for $300. The money raised from this event will support the continuance of the program for the rest of the year. Tickets can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com, or by calling Wendy at the Buker Community Center, in Augusta, at 626-2350. Checks should be made out to “City of Augusta.”

They are also looking for people willing to donate items for the auction. Although items related to the French culture or language are preferred, and will usually go for a higher bid-price, any type of item will be gratefully accepted.

Anyone with questions about the program, or the “Springtime in Paris” fundraiser on April 27, is encouraged to contact Hicks by email at MFHLPAugustaME@gmail.com or phone at 215-3621. The language program is also in need of community volunteers, especially those with a knowledge of the French language, history or culture.

“French is French,” Hicks says again, at the end of our interview, “and we want the kids in Maine to learn it because it’s part of our heritage.”

Michelle Boyer inducted in Whitefield Lions

From left to right, Barry Tibbetts, Michelle Boyer, first vice president Donna Brooks. (Contributed photo)

Michelle Boyer, of Augusta, was inducted into the Whitefield Lions Club on March 14 at the regular meeting held at the Lions Den, in Coopers Mills. The induction ceremony was performed by First Vice President, Lion Donna Brooks, of Jefferson. Boyer is sponsored by Lion Barry Tibbetts, of Whitefield. To learn more about the Whitefield Lions Club call Whitefield Lions Club President, Kim Haskell at 446-2545.

KHS to present story of family’s life in a lighthouse

Marshall Point Lighthouse, located near the fishing village of Port Clyde, Maine (photo: marshallpoint.org)

Imagine living in a century-old lightkeeper’s house on the coast of Maine. It sounds like a fantasy, but for Tom and Lee Ann Szelog, dream became reality when they settled into the keeper’s quarters at the Marshall Point Lighthouse, in Port Clyde.

Join the Szelog’s to experience what it’s like to live in an authentic and operating lighthouse on the Maine coast on Wednesday, March 20, at 6:30 p.m., at the Maine State Library.

The Szelog’s home was remote by most people’s standards, yet relatively accessible for a lighthouse station. Sometimes they had only wildlife and passing boats for company, but not for long, because the spell of the lighthouse drew pilgrims in all seasons. People came to rest, to play, to marry, to meditate and to celebrate – all within view of the keeper’s house and the lenses of Tom’s camera.

In a narrated photography presentation based on the Szelog’s book, Our Point of View – Fourteen Years at a Maine Lighthouse, witness the ever changing tide of emotion and drama through compelling stories and extraordinary photographs.

Published by Down East magazine, the book has been honored as one of the best photo books by Shutterbug magazine and was the winner of Best Maine-Themed Book in the Maine Literary Awards from the Maine Writers and Publishers Association. The book is also a Gold Medal winner from the Independent Publishers Association.

The presentation is co-sponsored by the Maine State Library and free to the public (donations are accepted). For more information, contact Scott Wood, KHS administrative director, at kennhis1891@gmail.com or call 207-622-7718

The Maine State Library is located at 230 State Street, in Augusta.

Kennebec Historical Society to present “A History of Camp Keyes”

This photo was taken sometime in the 1950’s from atop the hill adjacent to Camp Keyes. Vehicles pictured include a mixture of different Army trucks from the time period. (Photo: Maine Army National Guard archives)

For over 100 years, Camp Keyes has been known as the headquarters for the Maine National Guard, in Augusta. But how did that site on the hill come to be chosen? Who is it named for? Who trained there, and why? Come listen as Captain Jonathan Bratten (historian for the Maine National Guard) answers those questions and describes the role that Camp Keyes has played in five different conflicts and for generations of Maine soldiers and airmen.

The February speaker, Captain Jonathan Bratten, is the Command Historian for the Maine National Guard. In this capacity, he has produced multiple articles on the history of Maine’s soldiers, appearing in such publications as The New York Times, The Washington Post, Army History, On Point, and Army Magazine. He has also appeared in the Smithsonian Channel documentary, Americans Underground: Secret Cities of World War I and served as a historian in France for the Army’s World War I Centennial commemorations. Additionally, Captain Bratten is the commander of the 251st Engineer Company and a veteran of Afghanistan. He and his wife live in Portland.

The Kennebec Historical Society February Presentation is free to the public (donations gladly accepted). The presentation will take place on Wednesday, February 20, 2019, at 6:30 p.m., at the Hope Baptist Church, located at 726 Western Avenue, in Manchester.

Nine area students on University of New Hampshire’s dean’s list

The following students have been named to the dean’s list at the University of New Hampshire, in Durham, New Hampshire, for the fall 2018 semester.

Matthew Murray, of Augusta, with highest honors; Nicholas Carey, of Waterville, with high honors; Cody Short, of Fairfield, with high honors; Bradford Wilbur, of Fairfield, with honors; Carly LaRochelle, of Fairfield, with honors; Elijah Caret, of Oakland, with highest honors; Jessica Hosea, of Oakland, with highest honors; Hannah Duperry, of Oakland, with highest honors; and Adam Bovie, of Vassalboro, with highest honors.

Students named to the University of Vermont dean’s list

The following local students have been named to the University of Vermont dean’s list for the fall 2018 semester, in Burlington, Vermont:

They are: Natalie Palmer, of Augusta, and Kayla Christopher, of Oakland.

Kennebec Historical Society Holds Annual Victorian Tea

On Sunday, December 9, the Kennebec Historical Society’s Augusta headquarters was filled with holiday cheer as dozens of people enjoyed tea, baked goods, and live piano music. A dedicated team of volunteers spent hours planning, decorating, and baking for the event, which was open to the public.

St. Michael School students distribute over 200 baskets to community members in need

Before settling into their seats for a Thanksgiving meal with family and friends, the eighth-grade class at St. Michael School, in Augusta, wanted to ensure that less fortunate people in their community would be able to enjoy the same experience.

On November 19, the eighth graders helped distribute over 200 Thanksgiving baskets, most prepared by the students themselves, to local community members in need. The distribution took place inside the school gymnasium.

Individuals in need of assistance this Thanksgiving were asked to call the Salvation Army to reserve one of the special baskets, each containing all the fixings for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. Parishioners, community members, and the school community had donated boxes and boxes of food in recent weeks.

A blessing for the recipients, but an honor for St. Michael School to bring cheer to many.

“Our students learn the importance of service and caring for our neighbors on a daily basis,” said Denise Levesque, marketing director at St. Michael. “We are proud to make this Thanksgiving special by delivering baskets and smiles to many individuals and families who otherwise might not have the resources to enjoy this holiday.”

“I suggested to all of the students that they make something like this an annual tradition,” said teacher Mary Dionne. “Reaching out and helping others in our community who may not have as much as you will make a lasting impression. As crazy as things get this time of year, acts like this are what they will remember all their lives.”

The entire student body at St. Michael gathered at St. Mary Church on Tuesday, November 20, at 9 a.m., for a special Thanksgiving prayer service which was led by the fourth graders. The students brought non-perishable food items to the service for the local food bank.

Anne Guadalupi named to Assumption College spring 2018 dean’s list

Assumption College, in Worcester, Massachusetts, has announced that Anne Guadalupi, of Augusta, is one of 590 students named to the College’s prestigious undergraduate Dean’s List for the spring 2018 semester. Guadalupi is a member of the Class of 2021.

Kennebec Historical Society’s September public presentation: “Maine in World War I”

With the same patriotic fervor as Maine’s response to a call for troops in the Civil War, more than 35,000 men and women across the state joined the armed forces in 1917-18 to fight in aid of America’s European allies against the Germans as well as to redress German destruction of American vessels in the North Atlantic. Mainers also provided vital support to the United States and the Allies through war-related industries, like shipbuilding, munitions, textiles, and agriculture, while purchasing more than $100 million in war bonds and donating bandages, books, and other comforts of home to the troops. This illustrated lecture presents many newly discovered historic photographs, including real photo post cards of the period, to tell the story of recruitment, bond drives, shipbuilding, war-related industries, and knitting socks for the soldiers. This chapter in Maine’s past comes alive in these century old pictures.

A native of Portland, Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., attended Deering High School, Colby College, in Waterville, and Boston University, and was the recipient of honorary doctorates from Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, and the Maine College of Art. At the age of 13, Shettleworth became interested in historic preservation through the destruction of Portland’s Union Station in 1961. In 1971 he was appointed by Governor Curtis to serve on the first board of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, for which he became architectural historian in 1973 and director in 1976. He retired from that position in 2015. Mr. Shettleworth has lectured and written extensively on Maine history and architecture and served as State Historian since 2004.

The Kennebec Historical Society September Presentation is free to the public (donations gladly accepted). The presentation will take place on Wednesday, September 19, at 6:30 p.m., at the South Parish Congregational Church, located at 9 Church Street, in Augusta. The program will be preceded at 4:30 p.m. by a potluck supper and at 6 p.m. by the society’s annual meeting and election of officers and directors