JAY – A man known for his generous heart and hands was remembered Wednesday for his outstanding character and contributions to youth sports.

World War II veteran Roland A. Ouellette, 80, who spent 59 years confined to a wheelchair, died Wednesday at the Veterans Administration hospital in Togus.

“He was an icon in the town of Jay. He was a war hero,” state Rep. Raymond Pineau of Jay said of his former coach.

Ouellette grew up in the town, the oldest of eight children and a graduate of Jay High School where he was a four-star athlete in football, basketball, baseball and track. He tried to enter the U.S. military at age 17, but his parents ripped up the papers, he said in an interview published in the Sun Journal two years ago. He eventually enlisted in the Army in 1942 and was sent to Germany.

On Friday the 13th in 1945, he was hit in the back by shrapnel from mortar fire, severing his spinal cord and leaving him paralyzed below the hips.

“I’ve hated every Friday the 13th since,” he said in the interview shortly before he was inducted into the Maine Baseball Hall of Fame.

However, the injury didn’t keep him from the game of life, Selectman Parker Kinney said Wednesday night.

“He was confined to that wheelchair, and that didn’t seem to slow him down a heck of a lot,” said the 70-year-old Kinney, who said he’s known Ouellette since he was a freshman in high school.

“The first time I saw him was in the 1950s after he just got out of the service. He was pitching batting practice for the high school baseball team,” he said, throwing powerful sidearm and fastball pitches. “He went right over backward in that wheelchair,” he said, and when the boys rushed over, they were met with Ouellette’s fire.

“You talk about somebody snarling like an old grizzly bear. He didn’t want to take any help,” Kinney said.

“How many guys back 50 years ago during World War II would give up?” he asked.

Not Ouellette, he said.

“I was in Togus once, and I mentioned his name,” he said. The staff told him, “‘He’s the toughest guy in a wheelchair of any guy in the VA system.'”

Pineau agreed about Ouellette’s physical strength and can-do spirit.

“He lives on Route 4, and there’s quite a banking to his house. He had a lawnmower tied to a rope, and he would mow a steep, steep banking in his wheelchair,” pulling the mower up and down with the line, he said.

“He didn’t know he was disabled,” Pineau said.

That attitude showed in the list of accomplishments mentioned in his obituary and in his induction into the Hall of Fame.

Ouellette coached the Jay Outlaws, a semipro basketball team; started a Little League Team in Farmington and the Chisholm Jay Tigers; was a founder of Area Youth Sports in Jay; started the AYS softball and peewee baseball teams; organized American Legion teams, and was in charge of ball field maintenance for 15 years, among other activities.

In 1997 hundreds of people honored him when the Jay High School baseball field was named in his honor. The entire high school campus is on land sold by Ouellette’s father, Fred. The baseball field was Freddys Pond where the family cut and stored ice during the Depression.

Roland Ouellette was also a Jefferson Award winner.

“He was a hell of a tribute to this town,” Kinney said.

Ouellette met his wife, Barbara, at a game and they married in 1951 and raised a family of seven children on their farm. They were recognized as Family of the Year by the town, the state and New England in 1981.

“He came from a good family of French people. Hard workers,” said Kinney.

“It’s unbelievable” what Ouellette meant to the town, Pineau said. “He was involved in any kind of youth activity.”

“It’s a great, great loss to the town of Jay,” said the 57-year-old legislator, who played ball for Pineau. “We knew this was going to happen, but we just didn’t want it to happen,” he said.

Comments are no longer available on this story