County Face: Faye O’Leary Hafford of Fort Kent
FORT KENT, Maine — The fact that she will be 93 years old in April has not stopped author Faye O’Leary Hafford from working on her latest book. In fact, it may be the very reason she has lived for more more than nine decades and still has an sharp and healthy mind.
“I didn’t just give up; I was active all along,” she said.
An avid reader, O’Leary Hafford has written more than 20 books, mostly pertaining to Allagash life. She spent the best years of her life living in the logging town located deep in the northern Maine woods. After retiring from a 25-year teaching career, O’Leary Hafford worked as a receptionist at the Michaud Farm ranger station on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, where her late husband, Lee Hafford, worked as a forest ranger.
Her latest endeavor, entitled “From the Cradle to the Grave,” is about Hafford, and mainly intended for her family.
“He was a nice man; he was a very, very nice man,” she said. “I’m trying to prove what anybody can do — even if they didn’t get an education, they can do it on their own more or less.”
As far as his formal education was concerned, Hafford attended school only up until fourth grade.
O’Leary Hafford was not initially prepared to extend her own education beyond graduation from Fort Fairfield High School, although her aunt sent her to Colby College.
“I wasn’t ready to go. I went from this tiny school to this big college. I felt kind of lost,” she said.
In her autobiography, “Orphan Dreams,” O’Leary Hafford wrote of her desire to avoid college and enter the workforce.
“Strange as it seems, I certainly did not want to become a teacher,” she wrote.
She left Colby after two years and took a job making 42 cents an hour at a shirt factory, where she said she had some valuable life experiences.
“When I got there, I got involved in two different things,” she said.
First, she discovered her love of teaching. Her supervisors soon realized that O’Leary Hafford was a fast study who interacted well with people, and appointed her to a position teaching others how to make the shirts.
“Soldiers coming back from the war were married to girls from overseas, and I taught them how to make the shirts, so I was able to find out what life was like in other places,” she said.
O’Leary Hafford also became involved in a union committee that made important gains in rights for the factory’s employees, including paid time off and two weeks vacation each year.
“I was that kind of person; I wanted to do something to help,” she said.
O’Leary Hafford eventually earned her teaching degree from the University of Maine in 1949.
She also helped her community years later by founding the Faye O’Leary Hafford Library at the Allagash Community Center in 1998, and has fought to ensure its survival ever since.
However, she considers her greatest achievements to be her marriage for 44 years to Hafford, and raising the couple’s two children, Randi Hafford Jandreau and Michael Lee Hafford, who passed unexpectedly in his sleep of natural causes in 2010. O’Leary Hafford has two grandchildren who are both married and living downstate.
O’Leary Hafford recently left her beloved Allagash and moved about 40 miles down the road to Fort Kent to live near her daughter, Randi, and son-in-law, Bryan Jandreau, as well as to make it easier for her to travel to her doctor’s appointments.
She visits Allagash often and is active on Facebook, where she has adopted a personal policy to make navigating the site less stressful.
“One thing I don’t do is politics,” she said.
She said she always comments on Facebook posts depicting young children reading or holding books.
“Those are the kids, who when they grow up, they are readers,” she said with a smile.