LEWISTON — Normand Cote no longer carves wood nor does intricate work with his hands.

The 85-year-old from Lewiston no longer has the nimble fingers and fine motor skills needed to carve the works of art that he made in his younger years, he said. But they still can fly across a keypad, phone or tablet and use a computer-aided drafting system, which he mastered during his 35 years at Bellegarde & Son Custom Kitchens in Lewiston and eight years as a project manager for Hebert Construction.

Cote, who is a quick study, has always been drawn to a challenge. The retired carpenter and construction manager still puts in a full day of work most every day.

His pay is his satisfaction, he said, along with the joy that comes from helping others.

“It’s always been my goal to leave this world a better place than when I came in,” Cote said.

His first true creation was carved with a pocket knife when he was 18. He had been whittling away for half a dozen years, but it was the first creation he was really proud of.

He had seen a ball enclosed in a case with four pillars that had been carved from a solid block of wood. He wanted to make one of his own.

After a bit of research, he figured out how it was done — and he’s preserved his creation all of these years.

But he’s kept very little of the pieces he’s created — a chess set and a few other small pieces are all he has saved. The rest have been given away as gifts or commissioned pieces, prominently displayed in many houses throughout the area.

One of his most monumental projects has been trampled on for decades: a handcrafted spiral oak staircase.

“It was something I was proud of,” he said, “much better than the ones other contractors were building from kits at the time. It came out great, but I didn’t want to ever do another.”

Cote has always embraced evolving technology and tools that enabled him to do the best job possible.

“I would always volunteer for the hard jobs,” he said. “It was fun to figure out how to do something challenging. Learn it, help others and pass it on.”

Passing on and preserving is a theme for Cote. He is also the vice chairman of the L&A Veterans Council, and is the go-to guy when someone is looking to get a relative’s name on one of the memorial stones in Veterans Memorial Park in Lewiston.

“I have met so many wonderful people who have stories that they share with me,” he said. “Veterans sacrifice a lot, and it is good to make sure they are recognized and remembered. The memorial stones help keep their memory alive.”

Many members of Cote’s generation are intimidated by technology and don’t want to understand it or explore it further. But Cote has embraced it.

He volunteered to take care of the Maine Franco-American Genealogical Society website and keeps it up to date. If you search for a plot in a Lewiston, Brunswick, Lisbon or Lisbon Falls cemetery, chances are good that Cote drew the plot on the map you used to find it.

“I learned the CAD system in construction, and it is the perfect tool to map out cemeteries,” he said.

Of course, he does that all voluntarily. Giving back, helping others and making the world a better place is what makes him tick.


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