VAN BUREN - Anne Roy is standing in the small kitchen of the Acadian Village’s recreation hall, with two volunteers, discussing final preparations for an upcoming family reunion meal. Roy says they are expecting almost 80 people for this latest meal, and have even set up a tent outside.
The kitchen has the usual and slightly mismatched collection of donated cooking pots and pans, so frequently seen at community gathering places around the Valley. These large meals, Roy says, are part of what keeps the place so busy during the summer season.
She bustles around, giving final instructions to Mike Violette and long-time friend and helper Reno Lavoie, before eventually finding us a place to talk at one of the dining tables in the hall. Among old photos, antique plates, and assorted artifacts on display, Roy talks about how, over the past three decades, she has come to be the “go to person” at the village.
“The first meeting that I went to, they nicely gave me the job of president,” she says. That was 30 years ago, and the life-long resident of the area has been the head of Heritage Vivant or the Living Heritage Society of Van Buren ever since. Along with that title came the job of running the village.
The Acadian Village, one of the largest historical sites in Maine, is registered with the National Register of Historic Places and has been recognized as a Historic National Landmark. It is home to 13 authentic buildings and artifacts that allow visitors to take a walk back in time to how life used to be in the Valley
The first building was moved onto the site in February of 1975 and the Village opened July 1, 1976.
Before formally joining the group, and taking the leadership role, Roy had spent time helping her grandmother Lucile, as she volunteered and did fundraising for the organization. At the time Roy was still teaching full-time.
“I was teaching in Limestone, and was a full time housewife and mother,” says Roy. When her grandmother passed away in 1979, she decided to get more involved in carrying on the work of the historical society.
Roy and her husband Ron, who passed away just last fall, would put in a lot of hard work over the years to make the village what it is today. It is these family connections and her Franco American roots that got her interested and have kept her going.
“I have Acadian heritage. My grandmothers were Acadians, down from Nova Scotia,” Roy says, who herself, is a 2006 Maine Franco-American Hall of Fame inductee.
Even while maintaining her teaching career, which she did for nearly 46 years, Roy gave own her time to transform the village. When she started at the Acadian Village, Roy said it was in its “infancy”.
“There were lots of buildings with very few things in them. The village was up, but there was nobody to run it. I took courses in order to familiarize myself with Acadian history, from Don Cyr. And I started reading more and more.”
Now Roy can tell you about all the exhibits and artifacts, and about how they were created and who donated items. She will also occasionally lead guided tours or give talks to visitors. She especially enjoys the school groups when they are visiting.
“I love to do it for the children,” she says. “I always pull something out that would be of interest to the kids, something that would not be taught in school.”
There is a seasonal ebb and flow at the village, Roy says. Summers are very busy with tourists, and hosting special events and meals, along with needed maintenance. In the winter months Roy says “All the loose ends are tied up. And we keep looking for artifacts, and keep looking for new projects to do.”
When she talks about what the working at the village has taught her, Roy reflects on some strong personal connections.
“We lived it,” she says, referring to the way of life depicted in much of the village. “When we were kids, this is the kind of life we had. My grandparents lived with us on the farm.” Roy’s parents were John and Alexima (Duperry) Parent, who had a large potato farm in Hamlin
“The village teaches the growth of the valley through houses and different types of buildings we have. When you take a look at the Roy house, and how it all started, it must have been very difficult the first winters and the first years, before they were able to establish their income. They came here with very little. It makes us thankful for what we have today.”
After 35 years, Roy says the Acadian Village “has been floating on prayers and bits and pieces, but we’ve done well.”
Roy is very thankful for the local support the village receives, and especially the financial support from the National Park Service and Maine Acadian Heritage Council. Several key private donors over the years, as well as countless volunteer hours have gone a long as well, she adds.
Among those who have spent many hours working at the village is Don Cyr, who would go on to spearhead the renovation at Muse culturel du Mont-Carmel, in Lille.
So, what keeps her going? “So much time and effort has been put into this,” Roy says, “you can’t let it go down. You look behind you and there’s nobody there that wants to take over. So you just say ‘Well, another year’”.
Recently, efforts have gotten underway to ensure Roy’s accumulated knowledge will not be totally lost when she eventually steps back from her leadership position. Volunteers have been working with her to document important information about artifacts and photographs.
“When I first started, my husband would say ‘why are you doing this for nothing.’ I’d say ‘I have a job, and my job pays me. This is a fun thing.’ But the fun got to become a full time job. But it’s alright; I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished here”
“It’s just one of those crazy devotions, I guess.”