LEWISTON — Rosaire “Rosie” LaFontaine gets a lot of smiles when people see his license plate, “ELHS39.”

“When I park my car at Hannaford’s, I get a lot of comments. It was a hit when I used to go to Florida,” he said. When he returned to his vehicle, “there’d be a note on my windshield, ‘I’m LHS ’47.’ Stuff like that. I love that.”

As the ELHS Class of 2014 graduates on Saturday, May 31, LaFontaine said he’s proud to be a member of the Edward Little’s Class of ’39. This spring marks his 75th graduation anniversary.

At 93, LaFontaine is sharp, answering questions and recalling dates on a dime. He lives in a home above the business he built. He walks with a cane. He jokes and swears often, and doesn’t hold back on thanks and praise.

LaFontaine was born in 1920 at home in New Auburn, noting all his seven siblings were born at home, too.

The son of Canadian immigrants, his father was a master carpenter. “Even during the Depression, he always had work. He was good,” LaFontaine said.

LaFontaine was raised speaking French at home from morning to night. French was spoken at St. Louis Catholic Elementary School in Auburn. “We picked up English on the street.”

That made public high school challenging.

His first day at Edward Little, a teacher asked him for his name. “I got all screwed up,” he said. “I looked at my jacket and said, ‘Anderson Little,’” he said with a laugh.

He wasn’t popular in school, but liked it. At his graduation ceremony, he was cited for having perfect attendance. “I thought it was quite an honor.”

In an era when many didn’t complete high school because they had to work, “my father would have killed me” if he dropped out, he said. “My parents had no education themselves.” They wanted better for their children.

After high school, LaFontaine served in the Air Force, married, had two children and, in 1958, founded Atlas Supply, which sells heating and cooling supplies. Today the company is run by his daughter, son-in-law and grandson.

Starting his company was tough, he said. Except for an empty building, “I had to start with nothing. At times, I didn’t know where the next meal as coming from.”

But he enjoyed it. “I love people,” he said. His family lived one floor above. His wife of 39 years, Helene, “would say, ‘What the heck is going on down there? All I hear is people laughing.’ We were having a good time doing business.”

When today’s Edward Little High School was built in the early 1960s, LaFontaine served on the building committee.

“I was appointed by a local politician. I had a very bad reputation on the committee,” he admitted. LaFontaine considered “big cafeterias” and “big gymnasiums” frills “that have nothing to do with teaching kids.”

When committee members wanted to spend more on a building, he argued for less. Building committees “don’t amount to a damn,” he said. “By the time School Committee members give you what they want and restrictions by the state, you’re just a figurehead.”

LaFontaine said he doesn’t like the idea of schools with too many administrators; he supports learning and classroom teachers.

He treasures his Edward Little 1939 yearbook, saying he doesn’t let it out of his sight. He keeps up with classmates, collecting newspaper stories — including obituaries — of each one.

Looking through his book, he recalls one classmate who worked for him for 50 years, another who was the prom queen, and points to photographs and cites the names of who married whom.

Seventy-five years after he graduated, he has advice for today’s graduates.

“Continue your education,” he said. That doesn’t have to mean a four-year college degree, he said. “We need plumbers, electricians and carpenters.”

Whatever career an individual picks, “make up your mind you’re going to be the best.”

Running a successful organization or business means doing more than expected, he said. “I always give my customers a little more than I told them.” Sometimes it was a small thing, but people appreciated it.

Other things that worked for him, LaFontaine said, are staying active, keeping a sense of humor and appreciating the good around him.

He said he has a guardian angel, which is why he’s survived three life-threatening illnesses. “Everything I do, I seem to end up with such good people. I’m so lucky.”

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