LEWISTON — Every weekday at 5:50 a.m., Bert D. Mathieu stops into Labadie’s Bakery for two plain donuts and coffee and heads into work at Pamco Shoe Machinery.

He’s 91, and, strictly speaking, a volunteer.

“I locate all the parts needed so they don’t have to chase around and look for them,” Mathieu said. “I’m just a gofer. It’s a nice bunch of boys.”

Mathieu was born in Lewiston and can see the house he grew up in from his living room window. He left school in the seventh grade, on his 14th birthday, and went to work in the Venus Shoe shop in Auburn, pulling tags. Management saw potential.

“Inside of a week, I went from 7 cents an hour to 15 cents an hour,” he said.

When machines would break, “they’d call in a service agent,” Mathieu said. “I’d sneak over and watch them work. I’d ask questions, they’d give me answers, so I learned.”

It started a career that hasn’t stopped, nearly eight decades in the shoe industry with just one five-year break to serve in World War II.

During the war, Mathieu was in the Battle of the Bulge.

“We were surrounded for 12 days, we couldn’t make any fires and give away our position,” he said.

His feet froze and became very painful. A month earlier, Mathieu had gotten shrapnel from a hand grenade in his back. His feet still bother him, and sometimes his back, but otherwise Mathieu said he feels good. He walked with a cane until he had knee replacements 13 years ago.

“I go dancing a lot,” Mathieu said, at The Silver Spur in Mechanic Falls. “Friday nights is rock ‘n’ roll. On Saturday, it’s our style of music.”

Think Perry Como and Andy Williams.

He spent most of his career, 40 years, working for Compo Industries, first as a machinist and eventually as manager for the state.

“A lot of people didn’t know how that happened, but it did,” Mathieu said. “I had to deal with all these big shots in the shoe industry, but I made out.”

Mathieu is active in the American Legion Post 22, sews enough to tailor his own clothes and always keeps a harmonica in his pocket.

“This morning, I had them all singing (at the doctor’s office),” he said.

He only gave up his side job, a repair business called Bert’s TV, 10 years ago. He puts in about 16 hours a week at Pamco at 35 Beech St.

Mathieu said he’s not about to stay home, sit and stiffen up.

“That’s paying me more than any doctor can do,” he said. “That’s keeping my mind open.”

Know someone everyone knows? Contact staff writer Kathryn Skelton at 689-2844 or [email protected]


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