MADAWASKA – It’s half past noon at the Gateway Motel and Restaurant as snow falls lightly in this border town, packing Main Street with another inch.

Hawaiian Ham is the lunch special. Just $5.95. Comes with a baked potato and a ring of pineapple.

From a corner table clustered with five women of retirement age comes the question. “Did you see it this week?” asked one woman, eyes growing larger.

The rest lean in, and the gossip begins.

They speak not of the weather, the paper mill, nor the exchange rate over the Canadian border. These days, nothing tops talk in this small town like a session on what Ashley H. has been up to.

That’s Ashley Hebert, the blond Madawaska native looking for love on ABC’s “The Bachelor.”

She danced here, studied here, walked the aisles at Ames with her girlfriends, cheered for the high school team, and came of age in the shadow of smoke plumes from the paper mill.

Described as an affable, affectionate and bright young woman, Ashley H., say friends and locals, is just like the girl you see on TV.

“What you see on TV is who she is,” said Madeline Levesque, an ed tech at Madawaska High whose daughter was a close friend of Hebert in high school. “She is very open, and loves to have a good time. That bubbly character is her. She was always very true to herself.”

On Monday night’s episode, Hebert will show off Madawaska to Brad Womack, the square-jawed Texas bachelor looking for love on TV a second time around. Now one of the final four contestants, Hebert gets the chance to introduce Womack to her family and hometown.

Of course, the episode was taped months ago. But the town’s residents are still talking about it.

“We never expected anything like that in a tiny town like this. It’s kind of exciting,” said Jessica Dumond, a coffee server at Tim Hortons who is distantly related to Hebert through her husband’s uncle-in-law. “I had boycotted the show before. But I watch it just to see her.”

Levesque happened to be driving behind a curious caravan of cars last November that included a limousine.

The limo pulled off Route 1 next to the “Welcome to Madawaska” sign, and out stepped Ashley and Brad. Levesque watched footage roll.

“We’ve talked in the lunchroom about how he doesn’t do anything for us,” Levesque said with chagrin. “We’re all in our 40s and 50s. We’re just excited to see Ashley and Madawaska on the show.”

So is everyone else.

On Monday nights, this town of some 4,000 souls can be caught watching reality TV, whether they admit it or not.

The lunchroom at Madawaska High on Tuesday afternoons is abuzz with show gossip.

“We talk about what we like and don’t like,” said guidance department secretary Sonia Tardif. “French people talk with their hands. And there’s episodes I’ll say, ‘Look at her go!’ She’s a little spitfire. A go-getter. She’s the little hometown girl from Madawaska.”

Both Hebert and her family are forbidden by ABC to give interviews while the show is airing, and thus were unavailable for this story. Calls to aunts and cousins were not returned.

Both of her parents work at the mill: her mom, Laurie Lavoie, and stepfather, Mike Lavoie. They are known as good people, locals say.

Hebert’s early days in town were consumed with dancing. She traveled across the border to Edmundston, New Brunswick, several times a week to dance with Tammy Golla, owner of Main Street Dancers.

“Dancing came so naturally to her,” Golla said. “She’s very much a performer. … I was more surprised to hear she was going into dentistry than I was that she was going on ‘The Bachelor.’ She’s a very intelligent person, but I always thought she would probably be much happier as a performer than a dentist. That’s probably the performer in me talking.”

Hebert later worked and danced in Caribou at the Maine Dance Academy.

In her high school yearbook, her goals read: “To live in a world of fashion and dance!”

And dance they did, said Alison Danielson, Levesque’s daughter, who is now a forensics specialist outside Washington, D.C., with a baby on the way.

She explains how Hebert’s family at one time owned Martins Motel on one end of town.

There was a banquet-style room with wall-to-wall mirrors where the girls would make up dances after school and perform them.

They spun records from C&C Music Factory. Selena. Anything with a good beat.

“Who we were dancing for, I’m not exactly sure,” Danielson said. “I never reached her level. She was so talented. I remember watching her do a solo, and it literally gave me goosebumps all over.”

Hebert’s dancing ability was showcased in one episode of “The Bachelor” when she performed in a Cirque de Soleil act on a date with Womack.

Another pastime, Danielson said, was shopping at the Ames in town, which is now closed. They’d get hot chocolate from the vending machines in the store and set off.

“We’d just walk down the aisles looking at clothes,” Danielson said. “I remember she bought this one shirt that was striped with a heart on it. She looked so cute in it. We were like mall rats.”

Hebert was a cheerleader for several years on the squad at school. She played on the club volleyball team.

She was also a strong student, Danielson said, adding that the girls ran in a crowd of classic overachievers.

Madawaska High Principal Wayne Anderson was Hebert’s English teacher at the time and remembers a gregarious but focused student.

“I think she graduated fourth in her class,” he recalled.

He doesn’t watch the show. His wife, though? Oh, yes.

“That 15 minutes of fame though, everyone in the valley is living vicariously through her,” Anderson said. “Everyone and their brother is talking about it. It’s nice to see someone from the valley do well.”

Danielson, who last caught up with Hebert in the fall before the show, is tickled to watch her old friend every Monday night.

“She’s so animated when she talks. Her hands are all over the place. Her eyes are really big. She’s such a character,” Danielson said.

“I love that that comes across on the show.” 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

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