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UMFK campus community remembers a most passionate supporter and great friend

October 21, 2005


For the better part of five decades, Marcella Belanger Violette of Van Buren directed her boundless energy, passionate belief in the value of higher education, and eloquence in support of what she referred to proudly in her native French tongue as "notre collège" (our college). In turn, the University of Maine at Fort Kent community recognized, on several occasions, the woman whose voice championed its regional presence and mission.

She was honored on three occasions during college commencement ceremonies. In 1974, she was invited to deliver the address to graduates. A decade later she returned to accept a distinguished achievement award. And, in 1991, UMFK presented Violette with an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

The awarding of an honorary degree was a gesture, the significance of which was not lost on the education pioneer, who in 1974 became the first native Valley woman to earn a doctorate degree.

It is for these reasons, and many more, that administration, faculty and staff at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, especially those with fond memories of having met or known Violette, are recalling her contributions to the campus community after learning of her recent death.

Marcella Violette was a true champion of the University of Maine at Fort Kent community and all of higher education, said UMFK President Richard Cost. As a couple, Marcella and her husband Elmer embodied the spirit of the people of the St. John Valley. Their advocacy on behalf of our institution and of the Franco-American and Acadian culture of the Valley is legendary. They believed in the mission of UMFK and did a great deal to promote the campus here in the Valley, throughout the State, and beyond. Marcella devoted her time, talent as a passionate speaker, and energy toward our institution. For all of this, our campus joins the St. John Valley community in remembering the life of one of its most prominent and beloved citizens.

Although her visits to the campus had become fewer and further between in recent years after her move from Van Buren to Bangor, following the death of her husband former Maine State Supreme Court Justice Elmer Violette in 2000, Marcella always kept current on events at the college.

She did make at least three trips to the University since that time. The first visit came just two months after Elmer's death, when Marcella and her five children and several grandchildren came to UMFK to depart for the Allagash Waterway, where the university dedicated its new wilderness camp and named it for the former justice, who was a long-time advocate of preserving the natural environment of the land in northwestern Maine.

The 2,000 square foot UMFK Elmer H. Violette Wilderness Camp serves as a learning center for faculty and students in the environmental studies program and other university classes. It features classroom space and living quarters.

Her next visit, in the spring of 2002, would perhaps have the most profound impact on future generations of college students attending UMFK. It was at this time that she established and endowed the Elmer H. and Marcella B. Violette Scholarship Fund.

Marcella was a true Valley person who believed in the richness and importance of the French language especially for the residents of the St. John Valley. She was also a strong proponent of education, in particular her beloved French language being taught in public schools. Although she lived in Van Buren, she was at home in any Valley community. She will always be remembered as the voice of the St. John Valley. said Donald Raymond, UMFK's long-serving registrar.

For this reason, it is perhaps her final visit to the UMFK campus in the summer of 2004, which was most gratifying to Violette. The long-time advocate, who also served on the Universitys Acadian Archives/Archives acadiennes Advisory Board, was invited to tour the not-yet-complete facility, along with her son Paul, by Archives Director Lisa Ornstein.

Marcella Violette was a modern-day Tante Blanche who loved the Valley and whose life was a daily expression of her profound identification with her faith, her community heritage, her history, and her culture, said Ornstein. When danger threatened, she was an eloquent spokesperson on behalf of local interests and she was an especially impassioned advocate for educational and cultural endeavors such as the Acadian Archives. I will miss her greatly.

Although her presence will be missed at UMFK and throughout the St. John Valley, Marcella Violette's energy and passion will live on in the causes she so fervently supported.

Her life long love of learning and her advocacy for the University she affectionately referred to as notre collège were perhaps best captured in the following selection of the citation written by former UMFK faculty member Frank Grady and delivered by UMFK faculty emerita Wendy Kindred in 1991, when Violette was presented her honorary degree.

Political office holders from time to time have taken that position that small campuses are not essential and that the people they serve should arrange to attend larger campuses in the southern part of the state. Whenever such persons have begun to advocate the abolition of Maine's rural college campuses, they have encountered a lady from Van Buren who, they found, was armed with brilliant reasoning, powerful debating talents and a heart which never knew how to quit. This superb woman has given her finest talents, her time and passionate service, to the cause of our beloved university not once but time and time again. And not only on our campus but the entire University of Maine System benefited from her determined and inspiring advocacy in public and legislative assemblies. Soon it became known that whoever would oppose the good work and teaching at the University of Maine at Fort Kent would find Marcella Violette standing in their path, an awesome force she proved to be.

Donations in memory of Marcella Violette can be directed to the Elmer H. and Marcella B. Violette Scholarship care of the UMFK Foundation, 23 University Drive, Fort Kent, Maine 04743.