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Madawaska couple nominated to state’s Franco-American Hall of Fame

MADAWASKA, Maine — Joel and Therese Michaud Dionne of Madawaska will be inducted into Maine’s Franco-American Hall of Fame, Wednesday, April 19, during the annual Franco-American Day celebration at the State House.

“It was a nice surprise,” Mrs. Dionne said, Friday, April 14, during a telephone call. “For me, keeping our French is very important. It was my first language.”

The pair have been longtime advocates for the preservation of the French language and culture in the St. John Valley. The couple spoke only French to their children, who have grown up to be fully bilingual, and their grandchildren are being raised in two languages.

“It’s important we give that gift to our children” Dionne said. “Being bilingual offers so many opportunities, whether its culture or jobs.”

The Dionnes helped organize the World Wide Acadian Congress in 2014 and have been members of the Association Francaise de la Vallee St-Jean for decades, leading fund-raising and membership drives. They also helped to manage the only French library in Maine.  

They helped organize a French school for children age 4-6 and are in the process of planning a French after-school program in Madawaska and Frenchville. The couple have also been a major part of a French oratorical contest for Valley high schools students.

Both Joel and Therese were educated in French schools, with his American parents sending him to French prep boarding schools and college in Edmundston, New Brunswick.  

As a hospice nurse, Therese was very much in demand because of her linguistic skills and understanding of the culture of the dying and their families. Her husband is a retired engineer who had worked for years at Fraser Paper, a company partly located and managed in Canada. His ability to speak French and English served him well on the job.

Dionne spoke of a trip she and her husband took to California where their speaking French stood out, but, in a good way, she said.

“People were impressed,” she said. “They told us how beautiful a language it was.”

“French is a special language. We should value it more in the (St. John) Valley,” Dionne commented. She wishes that more local people embraced the French language and celebrated it, like the people in California did during her visit.

“I don’t blame anyone, though,” she said. Dionne commented that for years, decades ago, learning English was prioritized and people were stigmatized for speaking French.

The Franco-American Hall of Fame ceremony is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m., Wednesday, April 19, as part of the Franco American Day at the State House.

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