LEWISTON — Brady Dion is leaving his summer job in Sabattus on Sunday to go to college — but college is expensive, he said.

An Oak Hill High School graduate, Dion is getting some help — thanks to high grades, community volunteering, Franco-American roots and Franco elders who left money in their wills to the Franco-American Education Foundation.

This year, the Lewiston foundation is giving away $162,000 in college scholarships to third- and fourth-generation Francos, including Dion.

Dion spent the summer working at his parents’ restaurant, Uncle Moe’s Diner. He’s attending Husson University in Bangor, majoring in an accelerated six-year program to become a physical therapy provider.

His great-grandparents immigrated from Canada and worked as lumberjacks and in the Bates Mill.

The ticket price of college is $28,000 a year, including room and board, Dion said.

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As long as he maintains his grades, he was told in the spring, his Franco-American Education Foundation award would be $2,500 a year for four years.

But this week, he got a call: “I’m getting another $1,000 this year, so it’ll be $3,500! I’m really excited. It makes a lot of difference. That’s half my summer pay.”

Another scholarship recipient is Brianna DeGone, 19. She graduated from Leavitt Area High School in Turner and will major in bioengineering at the University of Maine in Orono. Her goal is to become a doctor or engineer of prosthetics.

Her community service includes missionary trips to Costa Rica to help children living in slums. She’s seen things there that made her cry.

“It looks like ‘Slum Dog Millionaire,’” she said.

DeGone, whose great-grandparents immigrated from Canada to work in the mills, received the Franco foundation’s top award of $5,000 a year for four years.

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A few days ago, she also got a nice surprise.

“I got an additional $1,000 this year. It’s crazy!” said DeGone, who’s putting herself through college. If she could talk to those who left the money, she said, “I’d start with ‘thank you,’ hug them and scream.”

Other recipients include Paige Clabby, who graduated from Lewiston High School; and Mason Bosse, who graduated from Edward Little High School in Auburn.

In all, the Franco foundation is providing 27 scholarships to high school graduates this year, ranging from $1,000 a year to $5,000 a year for up to four years of college.

The Franco foundation was established by Lewiston lawyer Robert Couturier after the 1998 death of Georgiana Martin. She was the widow of Lucien Martin, who owned Lewiston Crushed Stone. Georgiana left money to establish a scholarship fund for local Franco students.

Couturier, who died in 2011 at age 70, served as mayor of Lewiston at age 25, making him the youngest mayor in the country at that time. He also was a state legislator, a longtime lawyer and a proud advocate of the French language.

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“He wouldn’t have married me if I didn’t speak French,” said his widow, Monique, with a smile.

One of six children, Couturier’s father was a carpenter; his mother, a housewife. His devotion to French goes back to when he was in elementary school, said his brother, Roger Couturier, director of the Franco foundation.

In the eighth grade, Robert won a French-speaking contest at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. The prize was free tuition at Assumption High School and Assumption College.

He passed, his brother said.

“He had plans to go to St. Dom’s and Bates College,” Roger said. “That’s what he did.”

His widow explained why he became an estate lawyer. “He said once, ‘When I was growing up, there were a lot of old French ladies and gentlemen in our area. Sometimes, they were taken to the cleaners by others because they didn’t understand what was going on. I’m going to do my best to stop that and help them.’”

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Robert was one of the few lawyers around with whom a client could speak French, Roger said.

When clients without family wanted to make a will but didn’t know to whom they should leave their money, Robert suggested they help younger Francos afford a higher education.

“They thought that was a wonderful idea,” Monique said. “That’s how we got more.”

Robert paid his own way through Bates.

“He knew how expensive college was — even then,” she said.

In 1998, the Franco scholarship had $2 million in its coffers. It now has more than $4 million, Roger said.

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The foundation, which is overseen by a committee of local businesspeople, has helped close to 200 students go to college.

Roger, Monique and foundation President Jeannine Tardif said students who receive the scholarships are inspiring. In high school, they carry heavy course loads. They work, participate in sports, school activities, volunteer at food pantries, youth sports or church events.

“What these students take on is amazing,” Roger Couturier said. “If they do all that, they’re going to succeed in life. There’s a bright side to this world.”

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LEWISTON — The Franco-American Education Foundation is overseen by a board of directors that includes President Jeannine Tardif, Treasurer Monique Couturier Secretary Susan Lagueux, Directors Roger Couturier and Rachel Maier and Clerk Paul Dionne.
 
It is administered by the law firm of Dionne & Couturier, 465 Main St., Lewiston.

The foundation gives college scholarships each year to Lewiston-Auburn-area high school seniors who have good grades, participate in community events, have a financial need and are of Franco descent.

Students interested in applying can check with their high school’s guidance offices. The foundation does not have a website. For information on scholarships or the foundation, call Dionne or Couturier at 207-784-1576.

To read an Aug. 26 story about this year’s scholarship recipients: http://tinyurl.com/oj29p4n.


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