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Mayor’s Corner: Lewiston-Auburn — It truly is happening here!

By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.

Mayor of Lewiston

What a celebrated week we had right here in the heart of Maine.

It started a week ago Monday, when at the Key Bank Center, the home of the Androscoggin Chamber of Commerce, Carbonite’s CEO David Friend announced that his Boston-based company was moving its customer service call center from India to Lewiston. Now, there’s a real reversal from the trend of American companies moving their operations overseas. They will eventually employ 250 workers.

Friend indicated that the factors his company looked at was the number of good educational institutions in and around L-A, a high-tech infrastructure, affordable commercial space and a number of young people with technical skills that will provide longevity to the company.

Governor Paul LePage was on hand for the announcement, along with a room full of well wishers celebrating the good news. Auburn Mayor Richard Gleason and I were also on hand. Whether jobs are created in either Lewiston or Auburn, we both celebrate such good news—jobs created in either city is good for both cities.

Matt Jacobson, CEO of Maine & Company, was responsible for luring Carbonite to locate right here in L-A. I had an opportunity to talk with Jacobson and I encourage him to keep looking at L-A in bringing new or relocating businesses here. I pointed out that it would be great if he could bring in manufacturing enterprises, as we have an available workforce in our immigrant population.

Bravo to Carbonite, and welcome to L-A, where it’s happening here!

Speaking of “happening here,” the Art Walk Lewiston-Auburn was another great success. Michael Dostie of J. Dostie Jewelers, Tammy Grieshaber of Gallery 5 and L-A Arts, along with a large number of community folks and Maine artists, put on an outstanding event last Friday evening.

My wife, Pat, and I took a stroll up and down Lisbon Street going in and out of a bank, shops and lawyers offices viewing outstanding artwork with so many varied talents.  Some of the hosts served wine or champagne along with snacks. It was a glorious evening where we not only viewed outstanding works of art, but we also had an opportunity to meet and greet community members. It was reminiscent of the days of old when folks would stroll Lisbon Street as a wonderful pastime.

This also was Bates College graduation weekend, and it was evident that graduates and their parents enjoyed the art walk and filled our wonderful restaurants downtown.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, a city without the arts is a city that is dead. With this art walk and all other wonderful events that go on here in L-A, we can truly claim that we are very much alive with much to offer in a variety of the arts.

The Art Walk Lewiston-Auburn will continue throughout the summer on the evenings of the last Friday of each month.

On Saturday, the Veteran’s Day Parade kicked off at 9:30 a.m. from Kennedy Park. A large number of veteran groups, scouts, floats and even some old Army jeeps paraded. It eventually ended at the Lewiston-Auburn Veteran’s Memorial Park for a ceremony sponsored by the L-A Veterans Council, which is made up of numerous veteran groups.

There was an excellent crowd there to honor our veterans and those currently serving in our armed forces. The 20th stone with names of veterans was unveiled. It was nice to see families who were there with their veteran family member to see the evident pride and honor of those whose names were on the stone as it was unveiled.

Second District Congressman Michael Michaud was one of the speakers, as were the representatives of Senators Snowe and Collins. The names of the veterans who died during the past year were read by representatives of various veterans groups. The large number of names from those who served during World War II is a reminder that those from “the greatest generation” are quickly passing on. Father Maurice Morin offered the invocation.

With so many names on the stones and with so many veteran groups still very active in the area, we can take great pride as the communities of L-A and surrounding at the patriotism that young men and women from this area have contributed to maintain our freedom and keep it strong.

To all veterans, I salute you!

Another wonderful event took place over this Veteran’s Day Weekend. It was the Field of Honor held at the Simard-Payne Memorial Park, where 400 flags on flagpoles were displayed in a grid on the field. It opened with ceremonies at noon on Saturday and continued until 3 p.m. on Sunday.

The flags could be purchased for $40 each in honor of someone serving or who has served in the military branches of the U.S. On each flag pole, there was a yellow ribbon and affixed to it was the name of the honoree and the person or persons sponsoring the flag.

I purchased two flags, one in honor of my deceased older brother by 12 years, who was also my godfather, Lucien Conrad Gilbert, who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. The other flag was in honor of Lucien’s son, my nephew and godchild, John Laurent Gilbert, who retired last year from the U.S. Navy as a Chief Warrant Officer 4. John is fighting pancreatic cancer and I would ask you to keep him in your thoughts and prayers. He lives in Virginia with his wife and two sons.

There was a wonderful opening ceremony overlooking the 400 flags. Each had a personality of their own and seemed to be speaking for the veterans and service members they were representing.

Governor LePage and First Lady Ann LePage attended, as did Congressman Michael Michaud and representatives of Senators Snowe and Collins. A number of other members of the Auburn Exchange Club and the L-A Veterans Council also participated, as did State Representative Michael Lajoie. Georgia Chomas (Senator Snowe’s cousin) was there with her grandson. She read the proclamation issued by Governor LePage.

Two very distinguished members were Harry Dixon (Honorary Chair) and Ray Sylvester, veterans from WWII, having served in Europe. They will be returning to Normandy, France for the events there on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day in 1944, in which they both participated.

Ashley Chase of the Lewiston High School ROTC Cadets and her fellow cadets all participated in setting up the 400 flags, as well as participated in the event.

I wish to thank Rollie Heckethorne, David Projansky and Jerry Douglas, members of the Exchange Club who chaired this most wonderful event. Folks such as these are what make L-A such a wonderful place in which to live.

I was a bit disappointed in the fact that so few came over to Simard-Payne Memorial Park after the L-A Veterans Council event nearby. I would hope that in the future this be a continuation of honoring our veterans and those currently serving our country.

The Auburn Exchange Club, under its President Dick Merrow and President-elect John Reid, is heavily involved in providing for poor families at Christmas time, and they also sponsor a scholarship program for students from the three local high schools to go on to higher education. Another reason why in L-A, it’s happening here.

Flags may still be purchased by calling Rollie Heckethorn at 344-0007 or David Projansky at 240-0507. Remember, Flag Day is coming up June 14.

All in all, I am extremely proud and honored to be serving as mayor of one of the two cities of Lewiston-Auburn, as I am certain my counterpart Mayor Richard Gleason is in serving the other half of L-A, where it is happening every day.

See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.

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