Fred Lebel, former president of Bates Mill and the creative drive behind the creation of Maine Heritage Weavers, passed away Saturday after struggling with illness.

Coming to Bates Mill in 1952 after leaving military service, Lebel worked his way up, eventually becoming president before the owners sold the mill and much of its machinery overseas in 2001.

Undaunted, Lebel dreamed of keeping the spirit of the old Bates Mill alive in both quality and technique. He acquired some of the old machinery and, less than a year later, began calling some of his old employees back to work.

Dorothy McAtee began working for Lebel at Bates more than 30 years ago. She remembers how the yarns and fabrics had been cheapened since the mill’s early roots. She said Lebel sought to remedy that.

“His dream was to have his own place and get the Bates name back,” McAtee said. “Last week, he got a chance to see the sign.”

McAtee described Lebel as a hard worker, often putting in seven days a week at the mill. She described him as a very dedicated and kind boss who would let his employees know they were valued.

Lebel originally set up shop at the Roy Hill Mill when he established Maine Heritage Weaving. At the beginning of the year, he moved to a larger building on Main Street in Monmouth, taking with him some of the original Bates looms and card patterns.

“He was so proud of the new building,” McAtee said, “He went in there and he envisioned where he wanted everything.”

Lebel’s daughter, Linda Cloutier, a growing influence in the company, has been around the business almost her entire life, beginning her career at Bates Mill while in high school.

Today, family still plays a large role in Maine Heritage Weaving, with a couple generations now working at the Monmouth location.

McAtee said Lebel hadn’t been around the inside of the shop much in the past few months but was able to view it outside from his car.

McAtee found the timing of Lebel’s passing almost poetic, coming after he finally realized his dream.

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