Flood threat prompts Fort Kent youngster to move dedicated park bench to safety
FORT KENT, Maine — When Devin Gagnon of Fort Kent learned that rising river waters flooded Riverside Park on Saturday, the eighth-grader slipped on a pair of rubber boots, hopped on his mountain bike and headed down to the area, just a few blocks away from his home.
Gagnon, 14, wasn’t looking to splash around in the water or test the power of the mighty St. John River. He wanted to ensure that a park bench dedicated to his great-grandmother would not be washed away.
The children of Jeannette Voisine, 91, donated the bench to the town in 2016 because their mother so loved walking around the park at the time. Voisine is still living in town but does not have the stamina anymore to get out and walk the park any longer. The bench contains an inscription reading “Jeannette V. Voisine 2016: Her Place of Solitude.”
“It was in the water so I went to go see if it wasn’t anchored down so I could move it. I didn’t want it to float away,” Gagnon said Saturday.
The teen said that when he reached the bench, he discovered that indeed it was not anchored to the ground.
“I moved it,” he said. “I just dragged it up the grass out of the water probably five or six feet.”
Gagnon said he often spends time with his great-grandmother, whom he and Voisine’s 37 other grandchildren and great-grandchildren refer to as ‘Meme Zin.’
“I just like hanging out with her and eating lunch and stuff like that,” he said.
Gagnon added that he especially enjoys when his Meme Zin prepares chicken stew and ployes.
Voisine said on Sunday that when she learned that waters from the St. John River had spilled over into the park, it did not occur to her that the bench gifted in her honor might be at risk.
“Oh my goodness, I never thought of my bench, that’s a gift from the kids. He was very smart to think of it really,” she said of her great-grandson.
Judy Gagnon, Devin Gagnon’s maternal grandmother said she and her siblings, Linda Roy, Dana Voisine, Jenny Pelletier, and Allen Voisine donated the bench on behalf of their mother because they wanted to commemorate Jeannette Voisine who has always given so much to her family and enjoyed the park.
“This was her peaceful place and we wanted to do something so other people could get to enjoy the park as well,” Judy Gagnon said.
Voisine said she appreciates the efforts of her children to honor her with the bench at Riverside Park.
“Yeah, I walked that for years, three miles a day. I would walk to the park and meet up with friends, walk and talk,” she said. “That was nice of the kids to do that. I’ll be gone and the bench will still be there.”
Voisine also said that she is proud of her great-grandson for his thoughtful gesture in protecting her bench, but is not surprised, given the relationship the two share.
“From day one (when he was born), every night, I’d go up to rock him and we kind of bonded,” she said. “When he got a bit older and was just a little thing, he would call me every Saturday night and ask, ‘Meme are you coming over tonight;’ we’ve been close, very close.”
Voisine added that she is proud of all of her grandchildren.
“They’re all beautiful; I love them all,” she said. “They’re all really smart. They are all special.”
Judy Gagnon, whose daughter Trish Gagnon is Devin’s mother, said she is especially pleased that Voisine is so beloved by her family.
“It’s nice to see the grandkids and the great-grandkids respect her. It’s rare that you see that these days,” she said.
Devin Gagnon, a downhill skier for the Valley Racing Team and high-honor student at Valley Rivers Middle School said he frequently rides his bike around town and while passing by Riverside Park often thinks of his beloved Meme Zin and visits her bench.
“Sometimes I just go down and see it,” he said.
Voisine said that as the mother of seven children, two of whom have passed away, and so many beloved grandchildren, life has not always been easy, but has been fulfilling.
“Sometimes it’s hard to raise a big family, but you get a reward at the end of that,” she said.