Hospice volunteer, 86, gets high school diploma

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Leo Savard pumps his fist Thursday after being awarded his Lewiston High School diploma at The Hospice House in Auburn, where he regularly volunteers. Presenting the diploma are Assistant Principal Jay Dufour, left, and Principal Jake Langlais. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

AUBURN — Flanked by two high school principals, Leo Savard got his Lewiston High School diploma Thursday, 69 years after he quit school to join the U.S. Navy.

His ceremony was held at the Androscoggin Hospice House, where the 86-year-old Lewiston man volunteers.

Savard wore a blue Lewiston High School sash and a cap and tassel as Principal Jake Langlais awarded the diploma. Assistant Principal Jay Dufour instructed Savard to move his tassel from right to left.

“I just want to say it’s not everybody that graduates from high school and has all their kids here watching,” Savard said with a grin.

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He said he’ll put his diploma next to his late wife’s Lewiston High diploma. “She graduated in 1951.”

After the ceremony, Savard shared his story, which illustrates that tension between teens and parents is nothing new.

He quit school in 1949 at age 17 “because I was fed up with school,” he said. “And my father and I argued. I told him, ‘I’m going to go in the Navy.’ He said, ‘Get the paper. I’ll sign it!’”

He served on the aircraft carrier USS Roosevelt for 45 months during the Korean Conflict.

After the service he came home and worked on his father’s dairy farm. “It was understood I would work there,” Savard said.

He married childhood sweetheart Lucille. “She was beautiful. She was quite the lady,” he said. They raised three sons, Gary, Paul and Norman. His careers included milkman, bar owner and real estate appraiser, a job he did until age 75.

His wife died in 2012 after staying at The Hospice House. “She was here 45 days on and off,” Savard said. “They treated us so well here. I said when she passed, ‘I’ve got to volunteer.’”

He took courses for a year, then became a regular, visiting patients at The Hospice House and the VA hospital in Togus.

Androscoggin Home Care & Hospice administrators say Savard does anything that needs doing. As of Thursday, he had volunteered 3,006 hours, performing patient support, kitchen support, veteran pinning ceremonies, transportation, home visits and grocery shopping.

He’s picked up and delivered medication, kept vigil holding the hands of people on their death beds. He’s helped with holiday meals and has participated in bereavement ceremonies and remembrance services.

Savard’s commitment to his community was used as an example for graduating LHS seniors in June, Langlais said.

Savard downplays his service to the community.

“It gets me out of the house. I meet great people,” he said. “I love to talk to people. I try to bring humor to where there’s only sadness. If at all possible, I tell them about something that happened to me.”

He shared a story about a woman in her last days.

“I walked into the room, there were quite a few visitors there, and asked could I see the patient,” he said.

He went over. She heard him and opened her eyes. “I sat in the chair. She took my hand and smiled.” Strangers, they both started talking, until Savard worried the woman might have mistaken him for a priest. “I didn’t want her to start confessing.”

So he told her, “‘Listen, I’m not a priest.’ She smiled and said, ‘That’s OK. I’m not a nun.’ Everybody burst out laughing. I’ll never forget that.”

He hopes his visits bring a change of atmosphere.

“They’re always talking about the illness and the patient,” he said. “I start talking about what they did for work, what I did. If I can throw in a joke or two, I do. I try to walk out of the room with them laughing.”

Fellow hospice volunteer and friend Alan Elze helped organize Thursday’s graduation ceremony for Savard, who got his GED in the Navy.

At first Savard said he didn’t think getting his diploma would mean that much to him. “But it does,” he said. “I’m proud to have it.”

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