CARIBOU, Maine — While one board member does work for the U.S. Postal Service, neither snow, nor freezing rain, slick roads or whiteout conditions could keep members of the greater Caribou area from celebrating the accomplishments of their fellow residents during the Caribou Area Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Recognition Dinner on April 1 at the Caribou Inn and Convention Center.
Met by applause and a standing ovation, Carol Ann (Whited) McElwee was announced as the recipient of the Citizen of the Year Award — a prized distinction that family and friends managed to keep a secret from McElwee until shortly before the award presentation when her daughter, Darcy, arrived at the event from downstate.
“I knew something was up then,” she told the audience with one of her candid McElwee smiles, mentioning how appreciative — and surprised — she was and expressing her thanks, particularly for being able to call so many quality individuals her friends.
McElwee was nominated for the award by Martha Mahoney and introduced by longtime friend Nancy Chandler, who also presented her with the Citizen of the Year Award.
During the introduction, Chandler highlighted McElwee’s extensive history of volunteerism and education.
Raised in Fort Fairfield, McElwee began her 35-year teaching career at Caribou in 1974.
“If you ever walked by her classroom, you would hear her enthusiasm for teaching in her voice,” Chandler said. “Most days, she would still be [at school] long after everyone had left. If she went away for the weekend, no matter where, she would always bring essays or tests to correct.”
During her career with the Caribou School System, McElwee was the adviser for the National Honor Society and has taught several courses as an adjunct professor for the University of Maine at Presque Isle, Husson University and Northern Maine Community College over the years. She’s also taught English for the Upward Bound Program and has worked with the regional Gifted and Talented Program. Though she’s currently retired, McElwee has a seeming inability to leave the classroom and is currently teaching English at the Caribou Adult Education Center.
Current Mayor of Caribou Kenneth Murchison was a student in one of McElwee’s English classes when he was in school, and prior to giving his speeches later in the evening for Caribou Spirit Award recipients, he joked, speeches in hand, “I had McElwee as a teacher in school and I learned to keep my notes.”
McElwee has certainly been a staple in the history of Caribou schools, but it’s up for debate whether she had a greater impact on the community through her teaching career or her volunteerism.
“She is a past president of the Caribou Kiwanis Club and remains a very active member; maybe you were recently arrested by her during her duties as a Keystone Kop,” Chandler said. She added that McElwee is also a past president of the Aroostook Retired Teachers’ Association and a member of the Northern Skiers and the Nordic Heritage Sports Center Volunteer Committee. She also serves on the board of trustees for the Nylander Museum and as a director for the Caribou Children’s Discovery Museum.
Adding to McElwee’s impressive list of volunteerism is her active membership in the Aroostook County Republican Committee, the community sorority Beta Sigma Phi, and the hours she spent volunteering during Caribou’s sesquicentennial celebration specifically organizing the Queen’s Tea.
“She’s volunteered many hours for the Caribou Chamber of Commerce, from marching in the Presque Isle Light Parade to helping out this past summer with the potato races,” Chandler said.
When McElwee’s not teaching or volunteering, she’s still on the move.
“McElwee has been an avid runner over the years completing many races and a few marathons. She was often seen running the streets of Caribou during every season or in the halls of CHS in the worst of winter weather,” Chandler said. “I have had the pleasure of running with her many times and while running, we have solved many of the world’s problems over the years.”
Chandler also mentioned that McElwee helped found the Aroostook Lady Mûsterds — a women’s road racing team — and enjoys playing golf at the Aroostook Valley Country Club.
“Most days in the summer, you’ll catch her there,” Chandler said, mentioning that McElwee also is an avid bowler, kayaker, skier and snowmobiler.
McElwee was not alone in receiving an award during the Annual Recognition Dinner. Spirit of Caribou Awards were given to Halfway Home Pet Rescue and The Cubby, and the Maine Winter Sports Center was named Caribou Business of the Year.