Presque Isle area 2018 Year in Review

Compiled Paula Brewer, Special to The County
5 years ago


A fire destroyed a mechanic’s garage in downtown Fort Fairfield before firefighters contending with subzero temperatures and 10,000 gallons of oil got it under control on Monday, Jan. 1. The fire at Bob’s Service and Repair at 328 Main St. was reported at 3:30 p.m. Sunday and firefighters couldn’t leave until 12 hours later.

Ashley Burch became the proud mother of the first baby born in Presque Isle in 2018. Burch, 25, of Perham, gave birth to a healthy baby boy at The Aroostook Medical Center at 1:17 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 2, after going into labor on New Year’s Eve.

Maine State Police Trooper Rob Flynn of Presque Isle delighted the Central Aroostook Association’s Snowdogs Special Olympics basketball team when he presented them with a commemorative license plate. Every year the Maine State Troopers Foundation designs a license plate with the logo of the charity troopers choose to raise funds for through their annual auction. In 2017, Maine troopers chose Special Olympics.

Amish workers installing the roof on a new home and barn for Dennis Yoder and family on Phair Road in Presque Isle, on Jan. 22. (Courtesy of Vonda Lavway)

The first rumblings of a plan to change Presque Isle’s air service began when the Presque Isle City Council considered changing from PenAir’s Presque Isle-to-Boston run to P.I.-to-Newark, N.J., flights with United Airlines. Despite a community outcry, councilors eventually voted for the Newark plan on the advice of the Northern Maine Regional Airport Advisory Committee.

Beloved longtime local broadcaster Dennis Curley, founder of Channel X Radio, passed away on Jan. 19, 2018, following a stroke.

Aroostook County Sheriff Darrell Crandall announced on Jan. 29 that he would not seek a second term in that position. Crandall served four years, having followed in his father’s footsteps. The senior Crandall was sheriff from 1965 to 1983.

The Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce recognized outstanding members and enjoyed a dinner and auction during its annual meeting. Awards went to: Gina LeBlanc-Eggert, Citizen of the Year; Rob and Martha Frank and family of Big Cheese Pizza, Community Support Business of the Year; Smith Farms, Economic Impact Business of the Year; Larry Park and Larry Clark, Lifetime Achievement Awards; and Karen Gonya, President’s Award.

Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, families and supporters surprised local Scoutmaster Larry Harrison of Washburn with a dinner and award presentation in honor of his 40 continuous years as Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 177.


Presque Isle held a kickoff party in early February to celebrate BikeMaine’s coming to Aroostook County. The annual tour, sponsored by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, would have participants come to The County in September, start in Presque Isle, travel to Caribou and through the St. John Valley before returning to P.I.  

A crew of bear biologists from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife successfully relocated a mother bear and two cubs after a groomer at the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle accidentally unearthed part of their den.  

Kari Wells-Puckett and daughter Sabine of Presque Isle recounted their experiences at a one-year anniversary event in Augusta celebrating the 2017 Women’s March. The mother and daughter marched alongside nearly 2,000 people of all ages around Capital Park in Augusta to support progress in women’s issues.

Five students from Presque Isle High School starred on the second season of Maine Public Television’s “High School Quiz Show Maine” on Feb. 8. Juniors Owen McQuarrie and Rebecca Collins, along with seniors Austin Moreau, Dustin Alward and alternate Madelyn Wing, competed against last year’s champions, Marshwood High School. Though PIHS did not win the match, they reported an unforgettable experience.

Under a new policy approved on Feb. 14, starting in 2019 Presque Isle High School will no longer break for students to work on area potato farms. The MSAD 1 board of directors voted 9-7 in favor of a proposal to end the traditional harvest break beginning in 2019.


The city’s playground project gains momentum with more than $274,000 in donations from area businesses and individuals. The Riverside Park Community Playground Project Committee reported it hoped to have brand-new playground equipment installed and the recently installed splash pad open to the community by late spring or early summer 2018.  

Cook Florist celebrated 75 years in business in the community. Sidney and Edna Cook opened the floral shop in 1943, and now Karen Duncan, their granddaughter, is the third-generation owner. Duncan’s daughter, Megan Soucier, works with her mother and plans one day to take over the business.

The County lost a native son when Donald F. Collins, who for many years guided the family business, the S.W. Collins Company, died on Dec. 10 at the age of 92. Collins enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 18 and served in the 87th Infantry Division in Europe. Twice wounded in the Battle of the Bulge in WWII, his honors included the Combat Infantry Badge, Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster and a Bronze Star. The Republican from Caribou also served five terms in the Maine House and Senate between 1970 and 1992, and as the mayor of the city of Caribou.  

The wind turbine at the University of Maine at Presque Isle caught fire on Easter Sunday. The scorched blades of the turbine spun slowly Monday afternoon. (Andrew Birden)

A February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, sparked movements nationwide, including here in The County. School administrators from around the region planned to monitor peaceful student gatherings or moments of silence March 14 in recognition of the 17 victims.

Mapleton resident Jacob Graham in the adult division and 11-year-old Sadie Cairns of New Canada in the junior division sang their way to the winners’ spots at the annual Northern Star talent competition, hosted by the United Way of Aroostook. Graham, a math and science teacher at Presque Isle Middle School, performed an emotional, self-penned song called “I Cried Too,” about a man who adopts a young boy who was abandoned by his family and watches him grow into a confident high school graduate.  

In a decision preceded by much local controversy, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded United Airlines a federally subsidized contract to serve Northern Maine Regional Airport beginning in July. United’s flights to Newark would replace the P.I.-to-Boston service which PenAir provided since 2012.


Intense wind gusts sparked the demise of the University of Maine at Presque Isle’s wind turbine, which caught fire Easter Sunday night. The blaze originated in the turbine’s generator and led to a brief campus power outage. The Presque Isle Fire Department responded and secured the area.

The long-awaited grand opening of the Aroostook House of Comfort arrived April 6. Bishop Robert P. Deeley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland visited the Presque Isle facility to bless its chapel. Visitors toured the facility, which houses rooms for terminally ill patients, where they and their families can spend time together in a peaceful setting.

Gov. Paul R. LePage tapped Lt. Col. John Cote as the next chief of the Maine State Police. Cote, the former commanding officer of Troop F in Houlton and a 29-year veteran of the state police, became deputy chief two years ago and had been serving as chief following the departure of Col. Robert Williams.

Though spring had a late start, as of April 23, the Aroostook, St. John, and Allagash rivers were beginning to thaw. Aroostook Emergency Management Agency Director Darren Woods said there hadn’t been any issues with flooding at that point. Small chunks of ice could be seen floating down the Aroostook River at the Washburn boat landing on April 23, and ice in the Allagash River had started to move.


Mike Chasse of Presque Isle was looking forward to outings on a new off-road, tracked wheelchair known as the Ripchair. Chasse, who has lived as a quadriplegic since a 2007 ski accident, received a new motorized wheelchair thanks to a surprise community fundraiser. With the funds he also was able to purchase the Ripchair.

Presque Isle tax assessor Lewis Cousins reduced the Aroostook Centre Mall’s valuation by more than $6 million, which reduced the mall’s tax burden for 2018 by $162,830. Cousins revalued the mall from its 2017 figure of $15 million to $8,649,450.

David Blakey, of Central Aroostook Association’s Opportunity Training Center, lights the Special Olympics Torch with help from Lieutenant Brian Harris, of the Maine State Police, during the Spring Games at Presque Isle Middle School.
(Melissa Lizotte)

As of May 9, while some flooding persisted in low-lying areas along the Fish River and its chain of lakes in Aroostook County, water levels were receding in The County, diminishing the threat of spring flooding.

The annual Aroostook County Special Olympics Spring Games returned to Presque Isle on May 11, with 305 athletes and hundreds of supporters and volunteers turning out at  Presque Isle Middle School’s Johnson Athletic Complex.

Girl Scouts of Maine awarded a Medal of Honor, which recognizes Scouts who have “shown presence of mind and true Girl Scout spirit while saving or attempting to save a life without risk to their own life,” to a local Girl Scout. Presque Isle resident Michelle Botting woke up barely able to breathe due to severe complications of pneumonia. Her provider’s office suggested she make an appointment, but her daughter Lexus, then 8, sensed her mother needed immediate help and called 911. Paramedics transported Michelle Botting to the hospital, where she recovered under intensive care.

Bill Guerrette, an eighth-grade English language arts and social studies teacher at Presque Isle Middle School, received the Aroostook County Teacher of the Year honor. Guerrette has served for more than 30 years as a teacher for SAD 1.


The controversy over airline service at the Northern Maine Regional Airport ratcheted up another notch when PenAir announced it would end service to and from Presque Isle on June 1, a month before its federally-subsidized contract ended. Though airport officials attempted to have new carrier United Airlines begin service earlier, United said it could not begin sooner than July 1, which left the city without air service for a month.

After years of searching and waiting, Maine agriculture officials found evidence of the invasive emerald ash borer in a riverbank ash in Madawaska. The confirmation would spark a ban on the movement of wood from the region in an effort to contain the pest.

The city’s long-awaited splash pad opened to the public on Riverside Drive in Presque Isle on Saturday, June 16. The weather cooperated and dozens of families turned out to enjoy the interactive play area and cool off on a hot day.

Mel’s Trekkers, a cycling team named in honor of Melanie Stewart-Ring of Steuben, formerly of Presque Isle, completed the 180-mile annual Trek Across Maine from the mountains of Sunday River to the coastline of Belfast and raised $38,230 for the American Lung Association. Stewart-Ring was diagnosed with Stage 4 colorectal cancer in November 2017, and her sister, Beth Williams, and longtime friend Stephanie McKeen organized the team of 63 cyclists.

The Northern Maine Regional Airport announced plans to begin construction on a new hangar to house five privately owned single-engine airplanes.  With grants from the Northern Border Regional Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration, and a loan from the Presque Isle Development Fund, the hangar will operate self sufficiently through the airplane owners’ monthly rent.


United Airlines made its inaugural departure from the newly renamed Presque Isle International Airport July 2. United’s 50-seat jet arrived from Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, with 37 passengers. Twenty-six passengers were on the first departing flight July 2 at 6 a.m. as a crowd of spectators looked on.

The Maine Potato Board selected the Donald Fitzpatrick family of Houlton as the 2018 Farm Family of the Year.

Children stand under the largest bucket as it dumps water onto the new splash pad on Riverside Drive in Presque Isle. Saturday, June 16, marked the opening day of the splash pad, which will be open every day, weather permitting, throughout the summer from 9 a.m. until dusk. (Melissa Lizotte)

The Central Aroostook Soil & Water Conservation District recognized Andrew Ketch of Ketch Organics in Woodland as the 2018 Conservation Farmer of the Year.

A proposal by Presque Isle Police Chief Matt Irwin, urging cops to field test potentially lethal drugs with a chemical pouch, stirred debate inside the department.

Beloved teacher and musician Larry Hall passed away June 23 after a brief illness. Hall taught music at Ashland District School from 1962 to 1995, led the community choral group Aroostook River Voices and helped found KMH Music in Presque Isle.

Theresa Fowler, who headed the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce for 10 years, suddenly left the post on July 19.

Fort Fairfield Town Manager Jim Risner announced he would officially resign from his position at the end of August.


The 164th annual Northern Maine Fair was underway with a new layout. Parking was featured where the midway was formerly located, while the midway moved to wrap around The Forum.

Quebec-based Maibec Lumber announced on Aug. 7 that it had sold the Maibec lumber mill in Masardis, Aroostook County’s largest sawmill, to a new owner, Groupe Lebel of Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec.  

Amanda Kubeck-Sherman protested Aug. 8-10 outside Presque Isle High School on behalf of her son Asher Tuttle, 14, who she claimed was bullied as a student at Presque Isle Middle School and denied a “thorough” investigation by SAD 1 district officials. Following a hearing, the Maine Department of Education mandated adjustments to Tuttle’s education plan. Superintendent Brian Carpenter said the district complied with all regulations.

Riders with BikeMaine ascend Fort Fairfield Road in Presque Isle on the first leg of their seven day, 325 mile trek through Aroostook County. (Staff Photo/Anthony Brino)

School went back in session for the 2018-19 school year, with changes afoot. Presque Isle High School faced its final year with a harvest break, while in Easton, an influx of new students swelled the rosters.

Hundreds came out the weekend of Aug. 18-19 in Caribou for the annual Mawiomi of the Tribes, hosted by the Micmac or Mi’gmaw tribe, to enjoy dancing, indigenous food, and make connections with one another.

Although she had recently announced plans to retire in early September, Dottie Hutchins, Wintergreen Arts Center’s executive director, decided to remain in her position and use technology to work with staff and the board while away from the area.

Old Man Winter and old-time weather forecasting were the talk of the area when the Farmer’s Almanac predicted a long, cold snowy winter.


The SAD 1 school board began to consider asking voters to approve a $15 million bond proposal on the November ballot that would aim to reduce the district’s building costs by moving grades pre-K-8 to the current middle school.

The long-anticipated BikeMaine tour began when 450 bicyclists, along with crew members, volunteers and Bicycle Coalition of Maine staff, descended on Presque Isle to start the first leg of their annual trek. The 325-mile ride took off from the Star City, bound for stops in Caribou and various locations in the St. John Valley.

Presque Isle’s new playground officially opened at Riverside Park, made possible through a fundraising collaboration between the Presque Isle Rotary Club, the Presque Isle Kiwanis Club and the United Way of Aroostook.

Bangor Publishing Co. closed the newspaper printing press of Northeast Publishing in Presque Isle. Though some sources inaccurately reported Northeast Publishing itself was closing, NEP staff explained only the newspaper printing location would change. All affected staff successfully found other employment.

Former Presque Isle Police Chief Matt Irwin dismissed a taxpayer-funded investigation of his conduct as a way for detractors to destroy his chances to become Aroostook County’s sheriff at the polls. The Republican ran against Acting Sheriff Shawn Gillen, a Democrat. Irwin resigned Sept. 4 from the PIPD to focus on his campaign.  

A number of youngsters turned out for the Watermelon eating contest Aug. 11 at Central Aroostook High School as part of Homecoming Days this past weekend. From left, Catherine McCrum and Porter Bell chomp down on some juicy melon slices.
(Courtesy of Tomi Henderson)

Eastern Maine Health Systems announced it would change its name, as well as the names of 20 of its facilities around the state, including The Aroostook Medical Center in Presque Isle. All facilities would contain the name “Northern Light,” wth TAMC to be called Northern Light AR Gould Hospital.


Controversy brewed when officials from the Northern Maine Fair and Houlton Agricultural Fair butted heads over dates. The NMF requested June 28 through July 6, which conflicted with the Houlton event, traditionally held around the Fourth of July. Following an Oct. 12, hearing, officials with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry denied the requested date change. NMF officials later requested June 28-July 3.

During a special city council meeting, SAD 1 officials presented their $15 million bond package to turn the current middle school into a pre-K to 8 school. Many comments, questions and concerns ensued from both councilors and community members.

A benefit show in New York City, hosted by Presque Isle native and playwright John Cariani on Oct. 1, brought in a total of $17,000, all to benefit the Wintergreen Arts Center.

Construction began on the new Maine Army National Guard readiness center in Presque Isle, the projected cost of which is $18.5 million. The 43,400-square-foot building is expected to be completed by the end of 2020 and will host the Maine Army National Guard’s 185th Engineer Support Company.

The staff of The Star-Herald picked up seven awards in writing, graphics and advertising at the Maine Press Association’s annual awards banquet.

Presque Isle native Mary Barton Akeley Smith donated $1 million to the UMPI agriculture program in honor of her late father, Dr. Robert Vinton Akeley. Her gift established the university’s first-ever endowed faculty chair, a permanent position for an associate-level agricultural professor and researcher.


The Presque Isle boys soccer team celebrated after winning the gold ball following the Wildcats 3-2 victory over Freeport in the Class B state soccer championship held at Hampden Academy on Nov. 3.

The Wintergreen Arts Center completed a successful capital fundraising campaign which left the organization debt-free and with enough funds to pay rent for 16 months.

Matt Ross and Jason Beechinor from Lauretano Sign Group, based in Terryville, Conn., were in Presque Isle Tuesday morning, Oct. 2, to install the new sign at A.R. Gould Hospital on Academy St. The hospital formerly known as The Aroostook Medical Center became Northern Light A.R. Gould as of Oct. 1, when Eastern Maine Health Systems officially changed its name to Northern Light Health.
(Courtesy of Michael A. Gudreau)

Election Day 2018 saw more than 3,300 voters in Presque Isle alone cast ballots. Local issues included SAD 1’s $15 million “right-sizing” bond referendum to reconstruct Presque Isle Middle School and move all K-8 students under one roof. Voters nixed the proposal, with 56.5 percent voting against it.

In the race for Aroostook County sheriff, Acting Sheriff Shawn Gillen, a Democrat, handily defeated Republican challenger Matthew Irwin in the Nov. 6 election, receiving 66.9 percent of the vote, compared to 33.1 percent for Irwin.

Washburn opened its Veterans Memorial Park with inspiration from veterans John Churchill, Dale Lavway and Dale Whitten, along with planning, fundraising and site work by Eagle Scout candidates Carver Pendexter, 18, Ryan Cole, 15, and Paul Tardie III, 17.

After winding down this fall, the ReEnergy biomass plant in Fort Fairfield ended operations on Sunday, Nov. 11, amid a falling market for biomass electricity.

Officials from the Maine Army National Guard and the City of Presque Isle led a Nov. 15 groundbreaking ceremony on a 43,400 square foot facility that will house the National Guard’s Northern Maine Readiness Center.

The local retail climate received a boost when JC Penney renewed its lease for multiple years at the Aroostook Centre Mall.


The state approved Northern Maine Fair organizers’ controversial request to hold the fair in late June and early July next summer. The new fair dates, June 28-July 3, won’t overlap with the Houlton Agricultural Fair, scheduled for July 4-7, 2019, but were still expected to negatively affect attendance and revenue at both County events.

The St. Apollonia Dental Clinic’s annual Festival of Trees, held on the NMCC campus, featured 69 trees and raised a record $97,000 to benefit children’s dental care.

Mainers saw an early start to winter, with only six days in October in Caribou and Bangor reaching at or above average temperatures. In November, temperatures for the month averaged 3.5 to 5.5 degrees below normal.

Taxpayers received an early holiday gift when the Presque Isle City Council approved its $13.3 million 2019 budget, with an allocation that lowered the municipal tax rate by 0.52 mills, or about 2 percent.

Starting in February 2019, the Presque Isle Utilities District will raise drinking water rates by 11.55 percent on average, with residential customers seeing an increase of 10.76 percent.