FORT KENT, Maine — Four decades ago, Fort Kent’s newest Citizen of the Year came very close to making a decision that would have taken her away from the area and all she has done since then.

“In 1972, I was graduating from the University of Maine at Fort Kent, and someone from the Peace Corps came to speak,” Rose Charette said Saturday afternoon. “That was it, I was on my way to Africa.”

But life has a funny way of turning things around.

Instead of packing her rucksack and traveling half a world away, Rose stayed in Fort Kent, married Alphonse Charette, raised her family and — much to the delight of generations of students — spent the past 35 years teaching in SAD 27.

In what little spare time she had over the years, she was instrumental in founding the local access television station WFKT-TV, volunteered with area veterans groups and served on a variety of community boards.

In recognition for her contributions and efforts, Charette was named the 2011 Greater Fort Kent Area Chamber of Commerce Citizen of Year during the annual banquet Friday night.

The only one surprised at the honor was Charette herself.

“When you receive an award like this, you think of all the others who have gotten it in the past and you think, ‘Why me?’” she said. “I don’t think I could ever measure up to what they have done.”

In fact, Charette attended the banquet believing she was there to cheer on her sister and brother-in-law who had told her they were up for a Chamber award.

“It ended up they were there to cheer me on,” she said.

Twenty years ago, Charette, along with former award winner Danny Nicolas, Marc Chasse and a handful of others began WFKT-TV, which has been documenting municipal, civic, educational and cultural events ever since.

“For me, Channel 4 is like my fourth child,” Charette said. “When I go into the [WFKT] office, it’s like a stress reliever for me, and I’m so happy to be building information people will see and use.”

She is quick to credit the other station volunteers for the channel’s success and said the award really belongs to all of them.

Charette began her 35th year of teaching this past fall, the last 23 of which have been at the kindergarten level.

“Thirty-five years, imagine that,” she said. “People ask me when I plan to retire, and I tell them retirement is not in my vocabulary.”

As long as she wakes up every morning excited about teaching, Charette said, she’ll continue to be in the classroom.

“At the banquet last night, I was on a real high, because I can look around and find all the kids I have taught and I saw them all over,” she said. “Once I was done scanning the crowd, I see parents of those kids and recall fond memories of conversations with them.”

Charette admits to thinking “what if” about the Peace Corps, but said the fact her daughter Nicole is in Jerusalem with Catholic Relief Services, more than makes up for any regrets.

“She’s living the dream I had way back then, and to me that’s good,” Charette said. “She’s been to Romania and to Africa and I can say I was able to inspire someone else, and in the meantime, I’m going to stay with my little ones right here in Fort Kent.”

During the banquet, Robert Pelletier Construction was presented with the Business of Year Award, while the Long Lake Sporting Club of Sinclair was given the Longevity Award in recognition of its 88 years in business.

The Fort Kent Lions Club was named this year’s Merit Award winner, and Greater Fort Kent Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jesse Jalbert was given the President’s Award.

Brenda Harvey, former Maine commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services, was the evening’s featured speaker.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.