RUMFORD – Jane deFrees was remembered Wednesday afternoon as a driving force for change in the community, as an advocate for mental health services, and as a forthright, honest and caring person.
Dozens of people crammed into the Oxford County Mental Health Services building on Congress Street for the dedication of the agency’s Jane deFrees Health Center. DeFrees, of Rumford, died unexpectedly almost two years ago.
“She really fought for Oxford County,” said Holly Stover, a member of the state’s Western Quality Improvement Council who had worked with deFrees.
“She didn’t mince words. She was deeply committed to the people in this part of the state,” said Stover. “She was compassionate and committed and knew how important it was to have 24-hour crisis coverage.”
DeFrees founded the mental health care facility more than 15 years ago when it was known as the Greater Rumford Alliance for the Mentally Ill, said Peter Robichaud, president of the agency’s board.
“Jane was a wonderful person who was so involved,” he said.
DeFrees’ family – her husband, two daughters, a son and one granddaughter – were pleased that the new facility was dedicated to her.
“We’re thrilled with the honor and we know how much it would mean to her,” said her husband, Burt.
“It makes me very proud,” said daughter Elizabeth. “This is a great resource for the town of Rumford,” adding that her mother began her work with people in crisis during the 1960s when she founded a mental health service for teenagers that eventually morphed into help for returning Vietnam veterans with substance and mental health problems.
Among those attending the dedication were Gov. John Baldacci and Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Brenda Harvey.
“This is a living memorial to a loving wife and mother. This health center will continue to improve the human condition,” said Harvey.
Baldacci remembered deFrees as a sweetheart who was tireless in her commitment to the betterment of the community.
“Maine is in the top five states in the country for mental health services,” he said.
The renovation of the building at 150 Congress St. was recently completed in a design that has enhanced the town, he said.
“I want to thank you,” he said to the deFrees’ family, “for letting us honor your mother’s contribution.”
DeFrees was not only deeply involved in assuring that mental health services are available, but also was a state Board of Education member, a facilitator for health, education and environmental issues and a community activist.
The mental health center employs about 25 people. The renovations cost about $200,000 with most of the work completed by R & R Construction of Lewiston.