HOLDEN, Maine — Two of Wallace Fenlason’s favorite things to do were ride his 1941 John Deere farm tractor in area parades and groom local snowmobile trails under the light of the moon.
Although starkly different, the two activities help paint a picture of a man whose life revolved around helping others. A man who put others first. A man who worked quietly behind the scenes, avoiding the limelight.
“He never said no to anybody. Never. No matter who it was or what the situation was, he never said no, and expected nothing in return,” his wife, Lorena Fenlason, said Friday night during a small family gathering at the couple’s home on Copeland Hill Road.
The couple, who met at a roller skating rink in Caribou as teenagers, would have celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary next month.
“He was a man who always did for everybody else — always,” said his daughter, Amy Gailitis of Saco.
“He was a member of so many things but he wasn’t a member of things just to be a member. He wanted to really support the programs he was involved in, such as snowmobile clubs,” Gailitis said.
“He would spend hours grooming trails in the middle of the night and he loved it,” she said, adding that her father considered what some see as hard, thankless work as “absolutely soul enhancing.”
“He was in the Shrine mostly to support the burn units and burn hospitals for children,” she said.
Added his son and namesake, Wallace Fenlason of Hampden: “It’s amazing the number of organizations that he belonged to, was dedicated to. Endless,” he said. Many of those groups were champions of children.
Fenlason, 63, of Holden was killed instantly early Thursday afternoon during Bangor’s Fourth of July parade, when the vintage tractor he was driving was struck from behind on Water Street by a 1930 Hose 5 Museum firetruck driven by an off-duty Bangor firefighter.
The parade had been rerouted onto Water Street off Main Street to keep spectators and participants safe from a standoff on Park Street in which a former Detroit, Mich., man was arrested. The suspect fired more than 70 rounds from a handgun on Thursday morning, according to police. No one was injured in that incident.
The accident that claimed Fenlason’s life is under investigation by the Bangor Police Department.
None of his family members witnessed the accident. They had yet to hear the details of the investigation as of late Friday night.
“What was in the paper is what I know,” Lorena Fenlason said.
On Friday, Wallace Fenlason said his father spent countless hours volunteering and fundraising for the many groups he was involved in, which include the Shriners, the Masons, Good Samaritan, Eastern Maine Snowmobile Club, the Antique Tractor Club, Curran Farm Homestead and the Hermon Levi Rounders, to name a few.
Fenlason’s involvement in his community led to many friendships, his son said.
“He wasn’t a person who wanted to know you — he was a person who really wanted to know you,” he said.
Fenlason’s family said Friday that he died doing something he loved — being part of a parade. Besides Bangor’s annual Fourth of July lineup, Fenlason would ride his John Deere or one of his other vintage vehicles in other local parades.
“He was supposed to be in Bucksport [for a parade] in a few weeks,” Wallace Fenlason said.
“The Special Olympics parade [each year in Orono] was very near and dear to his heart,” Gailitis said.
“He would do that one with a convertible,” Wallace Fenlason said, referring to his father’s Ford Mustang.
Perhaps most important to the group gathered on Copeland Hill on Friday night is that Fenlason was a family man.
“My mother was his life,” Gailitis said. Her parents married when her mother was 17 and her father was 19, she said.
“He went to high school with my sister and I used to go roller skating on Wednesday nights, and he came by with my sister’s boyfriend and we went for a ride, the four of us, and we kept dating,” Lorena Fenlason said.
“He always told me after that first date that I was going to be his wife. I was 16 at the time. We were married when I was 17,” she said of the former Aroostook County farm boy. The original Fenlason Farms sign hangs on the outside wall of a shed next to the couple’s home.
The couple started their family in Caribou but moved to the Bangor area about the time Gailitis was getting ready to enter junior high school so that Lorena Fenlason could advance her career in nursing.
Shortly afterward, Fenlason started Doo-it-Rite Services, a cleaning company, with business partner Donna Wood. He became a role model and mentor to Wood’s sons, Michael and Peter Rines, the family members said.
“He really was a great father,” Gailitis said.
During Friday’s gathering, she and her brother told story after story of Fenlason’s humorous side, the goofy hats he was known for, and the many kind deeds he did for them and their mother.
And the kindnesses continued when his grandchildren arrived.
“His grandkids were his thing,” Wallace Fenlason said.
Fenlason would get right down on the floor to play or wrestle. He even let one of this granddaughters paint his nails.
Some of the family’s most cherished memories involve camping.
“We started camping when [the children] were very young because we couldn’t afford to do anything else. It was cheap to throw a mattress in the back of a pickup — and a camp stove, which I still have,” Lorena Fenlason said.
Two things she does not have are the pendant and hat her husband was wearing during Thursday’s parade.
“It was a Shrine pendant that I gave him,” she said. “He has lost that at least three times and we found it every time.” The hat — a straw cowboy hat with a John Deere logo on the front — appears in many of the family photographs taken of Fenlason over the years.
The chain from which the pendant hung has been recovered but family members hope the pendant will make its way back home.
Also Friday, people who grew up with Fenlason in Aroostook County mourned his loss.
Among them was John Miller of Chapman, who attended Caribou High School with Fenlason. The two were members of the Class of 1967, Miller said Friday in a telephone interview.
“He was just a nice guy,” Miller said. “He was quiet, just an unassuming kid.”
Miller said Friday that he and Fenlason lost touch with each other after high school but that he recently saw a Facebook picture showing Fenlason on his cherished 1941 John Deere tractor.
“I wish I had contacted him then. It would have been fun to swap tractor stories,” said Miller, a member of the Northern Maine Antique Tractor Club and the owner of two vintage John Deeres, one of them a 1952 model that he brought to a tractor pull at the Houlton Agricultural Fair on Thursday.
Miller said he was saddened to learn of Fenlason’s death Friday morning.
Doug Damon, Fourth of July parade chairman for the Bangor Breakfast Kiwanis Club, said Friday that the Kiwanis community extends its deepest condolences to Fenlason’s family and friends.
Damon said Fenlason and his tractor were longtime parade participants.
“He was always in the parade,” he said. “Even this year, he sent his application in and he called me a couple of times to say, ‘Did you get it? Am I all set?’ My thought is that it was important to him. I didn’t know him outside the parade community, but it was a pleasure to work with him.”
Despite Thursday’s tragedy, Bangor’s Fourth of July parade tradition will march on, Damon said when asked if Thursday’s accident would affect future parades.
“That question has come up. It’s been asked by several people,” he said. “I don’t know what’s proper protocol other than I think it won’t, I think it should not. Parades are what America is all about on the Fourth of July.
Damon said that 1,000 to 1,200 were part of the parade and that about 30,000 people watched it go by.
“The streets were jammed. I think people have that spot in their hearts for parades. As sad as this is, I think we have to move on. Not knowing this guy but knowing how he was always there, I would say he feels that way about it himself.”
Besides his wife and two children, Fenlason is survived by his mother, Charlene Fenlason of Scarborough, son-in-law Erik Gailitis, daughter-in-law Kelley Fenlason, grandchildren Destyn and Savanna of Hampden and Logan and Rachel of Saco, along with his mother-in-law, two sisters and several sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law.
Visiting hours for Fenlason’s family and friends will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hampden-Gilpatrick Funeral Home in Hampden, where a memorial service in conjunction with Masonic and Order of the Eastern Star memorial services will take place at 7 p.m., according to Fenlason’s obituary.