Marcella Belanger Violette left a legacy of love for her French Acadian culture by creating scrapbooks about her active family’s life in Maine’s St. John Valley.

“Every January, my mother assembled articles, pictures and information she collected from newspapers and other periodicals the previous year, to create a scrapbook. It was an annual tradition,” says her eldest son, Dennis Violette, of Orrington.

His mother’s scrapbooks even include information from when she and her husband Elmer were growing up in the St. John Valley. The couple raised their five children in Van Buren, to speak French and English. The collected clippings, letters, postcards and pictures cover about 75 years of information.

After his mother’s death in 2005, Violette, his wife Holly, and four of his siblings took on the project of re-creating their mother’s lifetime scrapbook collection. They copied and collated the information into a 25-volume collection and donated it to the University of Maine at Fort Kent (UMFK) to the Acadian Archives.

Violette says it took the family about 1000 hours over one winter to complete the project.

“I know my mother would be very proud of what we did,” he said. “It’s the type of information future researchers can relate to. We include information about the daily life in the St. John Valley from the perspective of one Acadian family.”

Violette’s family members are familiar to the French Acadians because of their advocacy for the culture, as well as their support for education and involvement in political campaigns.

Violette’s father Elmer, who died in 2000, ran for elected state and national political offices. Violette gave a speech in his native French on the floor of the Maine Senate in the late 1960s, considered to be a turning point in allowing French to be spoken again in Maine’s public schools (speaking French in Maine schools was outlawed in 1919.) Violette went on to become a justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

“These scrapbooks are more than a story about our family,” Violette said. “They tell a history of the St. John Valley. We think there are very few collections of this size accumulated about the French Acadian culture by one individual family member east of the Mississippi River. My mother tells a history story.”

St. John Valley’s French Acadians share cultural roots with Maine’s Franco-Americans, going back to their 17th and 18th century roots in France. Yet, there is a difference. The St. John Valley Acadians protected the farming and logging cultures of their ancestors who settled in Aroostook County.

“Many French-Canadians migrated to urban communities called ‘Mill Towns’ to find work. There, they lived in tight communities close to their jobs and churches,” said Violette.

“In the St. John Valley, most French Acadians kept the rural traditions. They did not experience the urbanization of their culture like many Francos who became industrial workers,” he said.

Violette says his mother was a strong advocate for education, especially for the advancement of Acadian women. In 1953, she earned her Ph.D. from L’Université Saint Louis Maillet, Edmundston, New Brunswick.

“She was the first woman in the St. John Valley to receive an academic doctorate degree,” he said. “My parents were involved in all aspects of Franco-American and Acadian life. They knew many people who are included in the scrapbooks.”

Her scrapbooks show how the family followed the Acadian traditions of speaking the French language at home and practicing their Roman Catholic faith.

Among the notable people included in the scrapbooks are Senator Edmund Muskie, President John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline B. Kennedy, President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalind Carter, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Governor Joseph Brennan and Honorable John L. Martin.

“My mother was a woman ahead of her time,” Violette said.

For information about the Violette scrapbook collection, contact Lise Pelletier at UMFK 207-834-7557 or [email protected]