LEWISTON — Dr. Bernard Lown was 15 years old and working at his uncle’s shoe shop when the Lewiston-Auburn shoe strike unfolded around him, an event that would shape the future of manufacturing in the Twin Cities.
Turns out the strike shaped Mr. Lown a bit, as well.
“In 1937, I witnessed the long and bloody strike of L-A shoe workers,” Lown said in an oral history put together by Museum L-A. “It changed both my intellectual outlook and my values. Such an education is not offered in any of our mighty institutions of higher learning. My debt to the community is everlasting.”
Lown’s tale was one part of a Museum L-A celebration Friday night to tell stories of the old days in Lewiston-Auburn and of “folks who came here and worked very, very hard in jobs that were often not easy, the everyday men and women who did what needed to be done,” said John Cleveland, chairman of Museum L-A’s board of directors.
Several people were honored at the event, including Lown, 94, who was presented with the Outstanding Achievement Award.
It was Lown, according to Rachel Desgrosseilliers, Museum L-A’s executive director, who inspired the night’s theme: “Untold Stories: Providing visibility to those who have been hidden from view.”
“We have so many great people,” Desgrosseilliers said, “who are either here or from here.”
In 2012, Desgrosseilliers and her group went to Massachusetts to get Lown’s history from the man himself. While speaking to Lown, Desgrosseilliers said it became clear how pivotal the strike of 1937 turned out to be.
“It was at that point,” Desgrosseilliers said, “that he decided to dedicate his life to fighting injustice.”
Lown was presented with the award in a long-distance way. He couldn’t make it to Lewiston for the event, but he joined the others through the wonders of Skype.
The event was somewhat star-studded, with several local and state leaders attending, including state Rep. Peggy Rotundo, former state Sen. Margaret Craven, U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and Lewiston City Administrator Ed Barrett, scattered throughout the Ramada Inn’s banquet hall.
Cleveland talked about his parents, who met at a local shoe shop, and about the men and women who built the community “literally brick by brick.”
“What we do is preserve their souls,” Cleveland said. “It’s important for the next generation and for the generation after that.”
How important is the past to the present generation? Desgrosseilliers told tales of children who have shown vast improvement in their school work after taking an interest in Museum L-A. She talked of artists, college students and Girl Scouts who were likewise inspired.
She told a story of one elderly man who died shortly after giving his oral history to the museum. Desgrosseilliers’ father, she said, told her on his death bed that he was at peace knowing that his history would be preserved. In fact, it was one of the last things he said to her.
“He asked, ‘Are the children still learning from the work we did?'” Desgrosseilliers said. “There must be something in every one of us that wants to be remembered.”
The people of that era, Desgrosseilliers said, were stubborn and strong-willed, people of deep faith.
“This is still what we are,” she said. “I think sometimes we need to be reminded of that.”
Angel Benefactor Awards were given to the late Ann Geiger and to the Sisters of Charity of Sainte-Hyacinthe to recognize support shown to the growth and quality of Museum L-A.
Ann Geiger was honored posthumously for her “major philanthropic support but more so for her insight and belief in the need to provide our community’s children with diverse opportunities of educational experience and exposure of which she felt Museum L-A a major link to these experiences.”
“A strong cheerleader always ready to offer her knowledge as an educator,” according to a Museum L-A news release, “she was also prepared to ask the harsh and important questions to make sure children and the community’s youth remained in the forefront of Museum L-A’s educational planning.”
Of Sisters of Charity, museum officials wrote: “The astounding growth in the care of the sick, elderly and children through the work of the Sisters of Charity of Sainte-Hyacinthe in Lewiston is a testimony to the vision of their foundress, St. Marguerite d’Youville. The Sisters have been instrumental in helping Museum L-A to leverage several major funding commitments for programs in nursing homes, tours for Alzheimer’s and mentally challenged clients, new immigrants and children.”
A Maine Maker of the Year Award was given to Maine Heritage Weavers of Monmouth. “The craftsmen and women of Maine Heritage Weavers are now weaving America’s most famous bedspreads and blankets in their original weight and elegant beauty,” presenters said. “These former Bates Fabrics employees use the same equipment to weave these superior quality bedspreads as taught to them by their parents and grandparents.”
A Brief History of Bernard Lown
After leaving Lewiston, where he grew up, Dr. Bernard Lown became professor of cardiology emeritus at the Harvard School of Public Health; co-founded the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985. Lown, 94, is senior physician emeritus of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He authored “The Lost Art of Healing: Practicing Compassion in Medicine” and his most recent work, “Prescription for Survival: A Doctor’s Journey to End Nuclear Madness.” He is the inventor of the cardiac defibrillator.
In Dr. Lown’s own words: “Having spent part of my youth in Lewiston, establishing a museum to commemorate the lives of textile and shoe workers is a source of pride both for its importance and its uniqueness.”
Source: Museum L-A