LEWISTON — Martial arts teacher, mentor and community leader Richard Pelletier passed away Sunday after a long struggle with brain cancer at the age of 52.

Pelletier’s daughter, Deneige, remembers her father as a man who was “always making jokes, playing pranks and putting on silly costumes,” and “a ham who loved having his picture taken.”

She described him as a man who was always happy and eager to give people second chances. She said he treated those younger than him as his own children.

Pelletier’s daughter, now 26, said her father had cancer since she was 14, but she didn’t know he was sick because, “He was brave and happy all the time.” She said he loved to play poker and his favorite vacation was a trip to Las Vegas.

She said he was proud of all the gardens at the school and would call her to tell her what was blooming at the time. Speaking of his fondness of nature, she recalled how, “Before he went to the hospital, he made us stop to fill the bird feeder.”

According to Sensei (Teacher) Sadie Landry, Pelletier led a life of teaching, gaining knowledge for the sake of sharing and passing on that knowledge. He often gave talks in public schools, emphasizing fitness, goal setting and bullying, all without charge. He also provided free defense classes for women.

Known to his teachers and students as Sensei, Landry said Pelletier’s actual title was Shihan, or Teacher of Teachers. He spent 42 years studying martial arts, 23 of those as a teacher.

He started his academy in 1990 at the Auburn YMCA before building his dojo on Taylor Hill Road in 1996. Landry said prior to Pelletier’s move to full-time sensei, he was a critical care nurse at Central Maine Medical Center for about 13 years. Pelletier was also a member of the Army Reserves for 13 years and a Desert Storm veteran.

Landry said Pelletier started keeping track of how many students he had taught in 2004, and since then, more than 1,800 have passed through his dojo.

Landry remembered Pelletier as a seventh-degree black belt who never called out sick and remained competitive in several different forms of martial arts.

Pelletier gave talks at the Relay for Life and Dempsey Challenge, inspiring others in their fights with cancer.

Citing Pelletier’s wishes, Landry said, “We’re going to keep the dojo open.” Landry sees herself and other senseis continuing Pelletier’s dojo a fitting tribute to his spirit.

Former student Nancy Yocono referred to Pelletier as “a gentle giant physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. An every-persons person.”

Sensei Michael Bourget, who knew Pelletier for 20 years, said, “Sensei Pelletier helped me during a few rough years in my life of which I will never forget. He helped me through those rough times when I didn’t know where to go or what to do next.”

He spoke of Pelletier’s sense of humor and patience in helping Bourget grow as a person and a student.

Jim Murray, friend and former cafe owner, said, “He would share stories about his experience with martial arts and his cancer. When I got sick and later diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, he was constantly in my ear trying to motivate me to stay positive though various treatments and trying to run a business, which he was going through.”

Murray spoke of their friendship throughout his own illness as well as the impact Pelletier has had on others, “It’s impossible to describe just how great of a man he was and how many lives he touched.”

Sensei Jane Mitchell spoke of Pelletier’s patience, “I trained with Sensei Pelletier for 15 years. Being older and smaller than most of the other students, I initially lacked confidence. Eventually, because of three simple words he kept telling me, my self-doubt became self-confidence. I live by these words and can still hear him telling me, ‘Yes, you can.'”

According to Pelletier’s daughter, he died at home, surrounded by loved ones. The academy’s Facebook page announces there will be a gathering from 5 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the dojo for those who want to and remember him.

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