LEWISTON — Former Lewiston Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau kept hearing questions from family and friends about penning a book on his experiences during the influx of refugees to Lewiston-Auburn at the beginning of the 21st century.

Author Phil Nadeau is the former deputy city administrator of Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

The official who fell into the role of point person during the resettlement of immigrant families is the author of “The Unlikeliness of it All, Part 1.”

On Monday, he spoke to an audience on Zoom and at the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College, a presentation by the Franco-American Collection.

“It was a question asked very often before I wrote the book,” Nadeau said before his lecture. “They knew I had a number of experiences with the city, and most of the time we were discussing the nature of refugees coming into the city.

“I just kept getting asked when are you going write a book,” he said. “I kept kind of dismissing it and then thinking about it. But it really came down to . . . an email exchange I had with Peggy Rotundo, a former state senator, in January of 2020. As the result of that conversation, I made that commitment. I started writing and researching right after that email exchange, and 14 months later, the book was published.”

Nadeau said the 20th anniversary of the first Somali families coming to Lewiston in 2001 also spurred him to write the book. He turned to self-publishing to get it out in time for the anniversary. 


Nadeau was named deputy city administrator in 1999 and retired in 2017.

Phil Nadeau’s book “The Unlikeliness of it All, Part 1,” is about the immigrant history of Lewiston. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

He recalled how everything transpired with the arrival of Somali families early in his 18-year stint.

When Lewiston lost its city administrator and the city became a national story due to the arrival immigrants, Nadeau took on the role of point person.

“It turned out to be that way,” he said. “We lost our city manager we just hired in 2001, Bob Vitas, and it was really starting to become something noticeable. By that time, I am the acting city administrator and we were getting more inquiries from the press and then the national stuff starts happening in 2002.

 “So by that point, I am at least familiar enough with the information and I think close enough to it that I can answer the questions . . . so I became the point person by default. It kind of stayed as something as my role.

“We worked hard,” he said. “It wasn’t just me. There were a lot of people. The one bottom line was, ‘get back to people.’”


Nadeau said he wants readers to know there was a lot of unfair characterizations about Lewiston, misinformation and moments that people don’t know about.

Phil Nadeau talks Monday with Rachel Desgrosseilliers at the “University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College in Lewiston. Nadeau spoke about his book, ” The Unlikeliness of it All, Part I.” Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

“All of those elements weren’t under one cover,” he said. “So what I did is I tried to bring a lot of history about the city and kind of the path that we took to become the city that we were in 2001 and 2002, which frankly is, I think, is much different than the characterizations that we saw very often and even to this day in some books.”

In Part 1, Nadeau felt it was necessary to delve into such subjects as the French Canadian immigration, the city’s immigrant history, Franco Americans, the mill and industrial history, and the xenophobia that blossomed with the influx of new immigrants.

During his lecture, he spoke of how the Irish and French Canadians faced scrutiny and racism. He only mentioned the wave of Somali immigration before opening the presentations to questions from the audience.

Nadeau explain the title of the book in response to one question.

“I struggled with the title,” he said. “I didn’t have any interest in calling it a Lewiston history. I wanted to do something a little bit more imaginative. I kept coming back to the same thing.”

He said he was amazed how the city, which he considers a small town compared to larger cities in other states, came away with such an “industrial success that made us the most formidable economy in the state of Maine.”

“We were an economic force in the state of Maine,” he said.

What also amazed him is that refugees discovered Lewiston and Maine and “made Lewiston their home in a way that was historic.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: