January 21, 2018
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Fort Kent fetes scarecrows, welcomes alumni

By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff
Scarecrows lined the streets and stood guard outside of local businesses and homes this past weekend during the annual Fort Kent Scarecrow Festival held in conjunction with the University of Maine at Fort Kent Homecoming Weekend. (Bangor Daily News/Julia Bayly)

FORT KENT, Maine — This northern Maine town and its resident college campus this weekend proved town and gown could play well together as the two combined for the annual Scarecrow Festival and University of Maine at Fort Kent homecoming weekend.

The festivities wrapped up Sunday after four days of parades, cultural exhibits, athletic events, a street bazaar, dances and musical performances.

“Everything is going really well,” Kay Paradis, president of the Greater Fort Kent Area Chamber of Commerce, said Saturday afternoon. It’s so nice to see all of the people coming to attend and all the events coming together so well.”

Local businesses got into the act decorating scarecrows with harvest motifs, and Saturday’s parade included more than 40 entrants, most in keeping with the town’s scarecrow theme.

Saturday evening UMFK rolled out the red carpet welcoming the Classes of 1960, 1970, 1985 and 2000 back to campus at the annual alumni banquet with a special nod toward three outstanding graduates.

Wilson Hess, UMFK’s newly appointed president, pointed out that 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of the first homecoming in the United States.

“According to the NCAA, the annual football championship game between the University of Missouri and the Kansas State Jayhawks was on a neutral field,” Hess said. “But 100 years ago the conference said the championship games must be played on a university campus, so the athletic director at the University of Missouri invited all the alumni to ‘come home,’ hence the beginning of homecoming.”

St. John Valley native and longtime community journalist Donald Levesque, Class of 1974, was named this year’s outstanding alumni.

“This is a man with an addiction — he has ink in his blood,” former colleague and journalist Andrew Birden said in presenting the award. “For Don it’s the people, the culture and the natural vistas of our home that provide a bedrock.”

Levesque attended UMFK after serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

After working as a teacher and directing several bilingual education programs, he became a journalist and spent decades covering the people and events in the St. John Valley.

He was named editor of the St. John Valley Times in 1989 and served as the paper’s publisher from 1996 until his retirement this past year, earning 11 Maine Press Association awards during that time.

A well-known promoter of the area’s French language, Levesque is a member of Le Club Francais and is the current president of Maine’s regional organizing committee for the 2014 World Acadian Congress.

In accepting the award, Levesque said he owes it all to his alma mater, which took a chance on a young man fresh out of the military with no real idea of what to do in life.

“I never imagined I would go to college,” Levesque said, admitting he really did not have the high school academic standings the university was looking for at the time.

But the then-registrar was from Levesque’s hometown of Van Buren and remembered him.

“He gave me a chance,” Levesque said, fighting back tears. “He gave me that chance and it changed my life [and] that is what UMFK means to me.”

Recognized with the university’s outstanding young alumni award was Todd Collins, Class of 1995 and unopposed candidate for Aroostook County District Attorney.

“If you think he’s outstanding now, you should have seen him in second grade,” longtime friend and Maine District Court Judge Charles Dow said in presenting the award. “Imagine if we could get all those hours back we spent as kids kicking that hacky-sack around in a circle.”

Dow said the two grew up together and were classmates as they moved down Fort Kent’s Pleasant Street from the elementary school to the high school and on to UMFK where, over the years, passions changed from marbles to Frank Zappa to the works of Shakespeare and Milton.

“Todd will soon be a district attorney for the great Aroostook County,” Dow said. “But before that he will accept this award from his alma mater.”

Collins has worked with the Aroostook County district attorney’s office since 2002 assisting law enforcement investigations, presenting grand jury indictments and trial cases, and arguing cases before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The UMFK Alumni Association also presented its outstanding future alumni award to current student Christopher Roy, who professor David Hobbins said was an “excellent choice.”

The Fort Kent native is active in numerous UMFK clubs, with the local Boy Scout troop, is on the ski patrol and holds a part-time job while maintaining a high grade point average.

This past year Roy was named a deputy game warden by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and plans to pursue a career in law enforcement after completing his baccalaureate degree in environmental sciences this year.

“You are all part of a great legacy at UMFK,” Hess said. “Welcome home to UMFK.”

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