County Faces: Joe Fagnant of Houlton
Joe Fagnant may not have been born and raised in Aroostook County, but he has certainly grown fond of the area.
Born in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, Fagnant, 47, didn’t grow up in a musical family, but was drawn to a variety of instruments. “I was very active in high school, doing marching band and concert ensembles,” he said. “Through tutoring my peers while I was in high school, I learned that I wanted to be a teacher.”
So how did a Rhode Island boy find his way to the University of Maine? “I met one of the professors on a band trip in high school,” Fagnant recalled. “He offered me a scholarship to the Maine Summer Youth Clinic band camp in Orono, and I took him up on the offer.”
He so enjoyed his time in Orono over two summers that he enrolled at the University of Maine at Orono, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in music education in 1993.
Fagnant started his job search and quickly learned of a position in Houlton. Although he had never traveled so far north in his life, he said he took a chance, came to Houlton for an interview and immediately fell in love with the area.
He has called the Shiretown “home” since 1993, when he became the music director at Houlton High School, taking over the program from longtime band instructor David McGillicuddy.
“At that point in time, in the early 1990s, there were not a lot of music programs in schools,” he said. “Many schools were cutting music, so a lot of jobs were kindergarten to grade 8 or 12 and were a mix of all kinds. It was very difficult to find a position where you could focus solely on 9-12 instrumental music. There were other opportunities for me on the table, but Houlton was a community that truly supported music.”
Teaching high school band fresh out of college proved challenging as Fagnant was only a few years older than many of his students, but strong co-workers helped in his first year.
“I was part of a pretty large music program, alongside some really talented individuals,” he said. “Dave McGillicuddy was there, but transitioned to middle school band director. We also had Paul LaPointe, Drew Poulopoulos and Larry Hutchinson. Those guys were my mentors and we really worked well together.”
He also joined McGill’s Community Band, playing trombone for a couple of years until McGillicuddy passed the conductor baton over to him. He conducted for about seven years, and also sang and directed the Houlton Community Chorus for several years.
Fagnant met Heather Wilson, the woman who would become his wife, while in Houlton. In 2014, the couple decided to move back to Fagnant’s home state of Rhode Island and he took a teaching job in Cape Cod, Mass.
“At that time, my goal was to be closer to my family,” he said. “My mom had developed Alzheimer’s and I wanted to be closer to support my family.”
The couple learned they were expecting their second child, and after months of soul searching they decided Rhode Island was not the place they wanted to raise their children. So they packed up and moved back to Houlton after about one year away.
Fagnant joined the Hodgdon school system as the Jobs for Maine Grads director, and two years later became the director of the Houlton-Hodgdon Adult and Community Education program at the Houlton Higher Education Center in 2016. He is just the fourth director of the adult education program.
“I knew it was the right fit for me at the right time,” he said. “We are helping people get their Hi-Set degree (formerly GED) and also helping develop the workforce, whether it is work-ready skills or earning credentials like our nursing program through NMCC.”
In his spare time, Fagnant enjoys sailing on East Grand Lake, which led to him offering a sailing class through the Adult Education program. He resides in Houlton with his wife Heather and daughters Allie and Hannah.
“Maine is such a beautiful state and here in Houlton there is such a strong sense of community,” Fagnant said. “I love that element. You see people doing fundraisers to help others and our school system is very strong. There are a lot of opportunities right here for people.”