LEWISTON — It’s hard to think of many local organizations that haven’t benefited in one way or another from the generosity of Priscilla Gendron.
There’s the Franco Heritage Center which bears the Gendron name. There’s Museum L-A, the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society and the YWCA, all of which received financial support from Gendron and her husband, Dolard. Not to mention schools, including ACADIA and St. Dominic academies, which likewise benefited from donations.
So immense was Gendron’s spirit of giving that the YWCA issued philanthropy awards each year named in her honor.
Gendron died Friday, friends reported, with her family at her side. She was 90.
With word spreading throughout the community of Gendron’s passing, many pointed out that Priscilla wasn’t simply generous: She was charming and intelligent and at times, hilarious.
“She was a very gracious lady,” said Rachel Desgrosseilliers, director of Museum L-A. “She was very calm, but she could be very funny, also. She picked up on everything. If somebody said something negative, she always had a way of turning it around and making it something positive. I really loved watching her do that.”
The Gendrons had been longtime supporters of Museum L-A at the Bates Mill complex. As part of that, Desgrosseilliers recently produced an oral history of the couple, who married in 1947 and raised six children locally. Desgrosseilliers said the more she learned about the Gendrons, the more impressive they became.
“He said he went out and worked 15 hours a day to make sure his family was OK. She stayed home and took care of the family on that end,” Desgrosseilliers said. “You could tell it was just a beautiful partnership. It was a priceless thing to watch. The love between the two of them, the way they related to each other, was really beautiful.”
Dolard started Gendron and Gendron Construction in 1971. The family would go on to enrich the community as real estate developers, contractors and business owners. While Dolard was at times the most visible in some circles, friends said Priscilla was always right there, taking care of the family and helping to grow the businesses.
“She’s one of the sweetest souls ever,” said Jennifer Gendron Carleton, a family friend. “You know the old-fashioned saying ‘behind every good man, there’s an even greater woman?’ The phrase may indeed have come from this woman and her relationship with her husband.”
In 2017, the Gendrons made a $50,000 donation to Museum L-A. Less than a year later, they donated another $50,000. By then, the ongoing philanthropy of the couple was well-known.
The Franco-American Heritage Center, which had likewise thrived on support from the Gendrons, changed its name in recent years to The Dolard and Priscilla Gendron Franco Center.
The center’s executive director, like others, found that there is so much to say about a woman with so many admirable qualities, it was hard to know where to begin.
“We are very sad. It feels like we’ve lost a family member,” said Mitchell Clyde Thomas. “Full of spunk — she was a very kind, generous and sensitive woman with a big heart. To hear her talk about the people she loves, especially her husband and six children, made me wish she was my own mother or aunt.
“I have never met two people who were any more in love with each other as Priscilla and Del,” Thomas said. “They were always taking care of each other — and could they dance!”
In addition to Dolard, Priscilla leaves behind four children, 11 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. In June 2017, the couple observed their 70th anniversary, an event attended by more than 200 people who came to celebrate the long and fruitful partnership.
“I know that she will be sadly missed by her family,” Thomas said, “especially her sweetheart. I can speak for the Franco-American community, as well. The absence of her sweet voice with that rich, beautiful accent will leave a tremendous void in our world. We will never forget her.”
“It’s not just losing a member of the community,” Desgrosseilliers said. “She had become a very good friend. “
Priscilla and Dolard Gendron celebrate their 70th anniversary. (Mitchell Clyde Thomas photo)
Priscilla and Dolard Gendron
Priscilla and Dolard “Del” Gendron, at left, share a laugh with Kathy Durgin-Leighton, executive director of the YWCA of Central Maine at the First Annual Women of Achievement Award Gala. (Sun Journal file photo)
Priscilla and Dolard Gendron (Submitted photo)