May 19—LIVERMORE FALLS — Employees from two closed paper mills in Jay were presented Friday with the Spirit of America Award by Jay selectmen outside Maine's Paper and Heritage Museum.
More than 20 former millworkers attended the short ceremony, some of whom had never been to the museum at 22 Church St.
The building displays more than 130 years of history of the paper industry in the area, along with tools, equipment and memories of its workers.
Pixelle Specialty Solutions' Androscoggin Mill closed March 6 and the Otis Specialty Papers Mill, which straddled the Jay/Livermore Falls line, closed in 2009.
"The paper industry came to the town of Jay in the late 1800s and brought with it many hardworking individuals who chose to live in our community," Jay Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere read from a resolution. "These paper mill workers were not only employees that dedicated their lives to the industry and the success of our mills, but they were also community members."
The workers' civic mindedness led them to hold municipal roles on the Select Board, Planning Board and numerous other committees, she said. "They volunteered their time to many local groups, including the Fire Rescue Department, veterans organizations, Area Youth Sports, Special Olympics, the United Way, Spruce Mountain Ski Slope, and the food pantry," among other endeavors. They helped whenever the community was in need.
"The paper mill workers have made Jay the community that it is today," LaFreniere said. "They were the key to a thriving industry that provided a significant tax base to our municipal government and the school system for many years. Their work supported small businesses and the nonprofit organizations that are the foundation of our town."
LaFreniere thanked the men and women who dedicated their lives to the paper industry and community.
As the wife of a former millworker, she said, the shift work was not always easy.
"I will always miss the people," Rick Duguay of Jay said. He left the Androscoggin Mill this month after nearly 20 years. He worked in the boiler room and went through the April 15, 2020, digester explosion, which ultimately led to the mill closing. He started out in the wood room.
"I spent a lot of time on the recovery boiler and the smelt room," he said.
Ashley Langlin-Hebert of Livermore said she was very sad to leave the Androscoggin Mill on April 17. She worked there for more than 16 years. She and five co-workers, who worked in the Planning, Scheduling and Distribution Department, left the same day.
She too will miss the people, she said.
"It is so weird not be attached to the mill. It was a constant commitment," Langlin-Hebert said.
Sherry Judd of Livermore Falls, who worked at both mills and is a founder of the museum, said paper mill workers are like family.
"We just had everybody's back," she said. When anyone was out sick, the other c0-workers took care of their work for them, she added.
She left in 1972 to have her son and was called back. She also worked at the cogeneration plant that was eventually purchased by International Paper.
Deb Kendall of Livermore worked at Wausau Paper Corp.'s Otis Mill for 25 years in behavioral safety. She was one of the last to leave the mill when it closed in 2009. She is now a mental health rehabilitation technician.
Richard Therrien of Livermore started at the Otis Mill in 1954 and went to the International Paper mill. He oiled the bearings on the paper machines and other equipment.
"I retired in 1997," he said. "I worked everywhere at the mill. I liked working."
The framed Spirit of America Award will hang in the museum.
Some of the former millworkers said they plan to attend the museum's annual Papermakers Heritage Celebration from from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Aug. 26. There will be tours of the museum and lunch for the Otis and Androscoggin millworkers reunion.