FORT KENT, Maine — For more than 35 years whenever a news story about the St. John Valley and northern Aroostook County appeared in the Bangor Daily News, it was a safe bet whose byline accompanied it.
This weekend longtime reporter Beurmond Banville will be honored for that work in print media as well as for his commitment to community service.
The University of Maine at Fort Kent is recognizing Banville with its Outstanding Alumni Award.
The presentation is being made at the annual alumni banquet tonight.
Officially retired from the news business, Banville, 63, said in an interview this week that he is nonetheless busier than ever and somewhat overwhelmed by the recognition.
“I’m not the kind of person that goes looking for this kind of thing at the end of the day,” Banville said. “I’m not looking for a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Rather, Banville maintains that his efforts spring from his love of helping out wherever and whenever he can.
He has been an active adult Boy Scout, including a combined 22 years as assistant Scoutmaster and Scoutmaster with Troop 270 in Frenchville, St. Agatha and Sinclair, where he has assisted more than a dozen Scouts in earning their Eagle Scout badges. Banville has received numerous awards, including the prestigious Silver Beaver Award from the Katahdin Area Council of Boy Scouts of America.
Banville also has volunteered 37 years of service to the Knights of Columbus. He has held several local, district and state offices and was named Knight of the Year by his home council four times.
But Banville is perhaps best-known as a BDN reporter, where he covered the people, places and events of the St. John Valley and beyond for 36 years.
“There are a lot of interesting people in the St. John Valley,” Banville said. “Most of them are unbeknownst to people south of Houlton.”
It was telling the stories of those people that gave Banville the most joy over the years and kept him at it all that time.
“Not only did my work at the Bangor Daily News allow me to spend my life in the St. John Valley — writing for them was an enjoyable career,” he said. “I looked forward to going to work every morning.”
Admittedly, to some, much of Banville’s work could appear tedious in the extreme — like covering three decades worth of municipal meetings.
“I always enjoyed covering town councils and school boards,” Banville said. “People would ask me how I could keep going year after year, and I’d tell them I enjoy the give and take at those meetings, and I like to write and explain what’s going on to people and how that affects them.”
Regardless of how much Banville enjoyed his work, he did say it was not always easy.
“Any time a tragedy would involve a friend or friend’s family, that was especially hard,” he said. “There are times when you as a reporter have to intrude on people at very bad times.”
One of those times was the arsenic poisoning case five years ago in New Sweden.
“That was a tale of so much emotion,” Banville said. “It was the kind of thing that tears a small community apart.”
But overall, Banville has fond memories of a career which included covering the queen of England’s two visits to Canada, the pope, and a political summit in Quebec City with Ronald Reagan and Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
In each of those cases, his native French language was as valuable as his media credentials.
Of course, working so close to the Canadian border — he could see it from his office in Madawaska — meant he was going to get into trouble eventually.
Once, he recalled, he was charged in connection with violating a gag order while covering a trial in New Brunswick in 1981.
“The [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] showed up at my office and wanted me to cross voluntarily into Canada with them,” Banville recalled.
Instead, Banville called the paper’s attorney, who quickly arranged for him to show up in court at the prescribed date without being taken into custody.
After a trial and an appeal, Banville was found guilty and ordered to pay a $200 fine.
To this day, he blames that total on his longtime BDN colleague Kent Ward.
“Kent was covering the trial, and when the judge ordered the fine, Kent whispered to me that was only $125 in U.S. funds,” Banville said with a chuckle. “The judge heard that and said the fine would be in U.S. funds.”
The fine was paid and the Canadian courts agreed to an “absolute discharge,” allowing Banville to cross the border in the future. In a somewhat dubious honor, the case — headed by Banville’s name — is now a permanent footnote in a Canadian legal text of case studies.
Banville also found excitement covering natural disasters such as the Allagash flood in 1990, 15 years of the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races, and several periods of labor unrest in the northern Maine woods.
Since retiring, he has turned his attention to civic activities and now serves on the Frenchville Board of Selectmen, and the boards of the Northern Aroostook Incinerator, the Northern Aroostook Airport Authority and the UMFK Alumni Association.
“I turned to local politics because I feel I still have something to help people,” he said.
Banville attended UMFK over an eight-year period, attending classes and working in two-year intervals. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1968.
Banville is married to Hermence Michaud Thibodeau. Together they have four children and stepchildren, and nine grandchildren and step-grandchildren. All of them live in the St. John Valley.
Also to be honored this weekend are Charles Dow, who will receive the UMFK Outstanding Young Alumni award. Dow has made a name for himself across the political and legal landscapes of Maine. He earned a law degree at the University of Maine School of Law in 1997, where he also earned the coveted Student Bar Association Award for distinguished service.
He was nominated to a seven-year term on the District Court bench by Gov. John Baldacci, and was confirmed by the Maine State Senate in January 2007. He is one of 36 District Court judges statewide.
John Blanchette, winner of this year’s Future Outstanding Alumni award, is a “super” senior at UMFK pursuing a bachelor’s degree in university studies in musical theater in his fifth year of enrollment.
Banville said he feels privileged to be in their company. But in the end, it all comes back to covering the area and people he so loves.
“You do see the worst of people as a reporter,” he said. “But you also see the best, and I enjoyed covering the best.”
Tickets to the Alumni and Friends Banquet are $20 each and may be purchased through the UMFK University Relations and Alumni Affairs office by calling 834-7557.