Michael Fralich

NEW GLOUCESTER – Michael Fralich passed away on May 7, 2024, just minutes before his 73rd birthday. He started his journey on May 8, 1951 as the youngest of three children of Marjorie and Harold Fralich in Marion, Ohio before the family relocated when he was 7 to Cape Elizabeth. There he budded into a spunky, mischievous, and fun-loving neighborhood kid. Among his many qualities, his capacity for deep personal connections must have flourished early, because not long after moving to Maine he made the friends who would be his closest his entire life.

It was in his teenage years that he was also lucky enough to meet his future wife and partner of over 50 years, Julie. They met through State Street Church when he was 16 and she was just 15 and got married in 1974.

Michael had many passions throughout his life starting with a degree in photography from Goddard College and then Natural Resources from the University of Michigan. As a young couple, they studied in Germany, lived in Boston, Mass., and lived in Ann Arbor, Mich. before setting their sights on a return to Maine. They purchased 180 acres of rolling forest in New Gloucester and proceeded to punch out a small clearing to build a home. The saltbox they designed and built with friends became home to their children, Noah and Laura, along with dogs, cats, barn animals, and one of his greatest passions in life: horses.

As his adult life began to take shape, Michael discovered his calling was to help others. He got his teaching certificate and found a home at Gray-New Gloucester Middle School where he made himself known by wearing Hawaiian shirts and red Converse All Star’s. More than just a Special Education teacher, he helped foster confidence, enthusiasm, and compassion in any student who entered the building. He ran the after-school program SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions), leading bus trips to go rolling skating, showing movies, doing basic science experiments, and other activities. He also spearheaded the school’s Rapid Journey program in which students spent all year learning the skills and raising money for a multi-day canoeing adventure down the Allagash River. He even kept his pet snake, Twiggy, as an unofficial school mascot that students could interact with in his classroom and even ‘check out’ to go home with for a night. All these things he did from a place of joy and a desire to improve the lives of others.

After leaving the middle school he joined Riding to the Top where he taught therapeutic horseback riding to children and adults with disabilities. He was able to use his profound empathy, patience, and deep connections with horses to help others overcome whatever physical, mental, and emotional obstacles they were struggling with. After 10 years at Riding to the Top, he and a friend founded Healing Through Horses in New Gloucester, an equine-assisted psychotherapy program. He loved to boast that he was lucky enough to commute to work on his beloved horse, Cyra, through snow, rain or shine.

Throughout his varied careers, he gave back to the community in countless ways and volunteered in many capacities including teaching English Language Learners at Lewiston High School, mentoring young people at New Beginnings teen shelter, hosting homeschooling groups, volunteering at the Preble Street Soup Kitchen, and bringing his therapy dog, Mocha, to local libraries and assisted living homes. He also tutored at the Windham Correctional Facility, where he helped orchestrate sweat lodges for Native American inmates.

Aside from a family sabbatical year in Germany, Michael and Julie never left New Gloucester, becoming an integral part of the neighborhood and wider town. Michael spent many summers with his children creating a trail network that was open to all. Norumbega, as the land was dubbed, became a local haven for walkers, skiers, snow shoers, and horseback riders. This legacy was cemented with the recent sale of the land to the State of Maine and the establishment of Talking Brook Public Lands. ngxchange.org/permanent-protection-talking-brook-public-land-a-lasting-legacy

With their recent move to the Lower Village in New Gloucester, Michael became known for riding his beloved horse, Cyra, throughout town, including to the library, town hall, Village Store and many neighbors’ yards.

Michael’s greatest gift might have been his ability to make everyone he encountered truly feel like family. Because of this, he became a father figure and mentor to many young people throughout his life. He continued these close relationships into their adulthood and many became lifelong friends. Even though he gave so much to others, his deepest commitment and love was for his wife, Julie, children, Noah and Laura, and later grandkids, Thomas, Lillian, Ada, and Ismay.

His unceasing passion for life, non-judgemental attitude toward everyone, boisterous laugh, animated storytelling, deep empathy and compassion, and spiritual connection with the natural world and animals will live on in the hearts of everyone he encountered. During his six-week journey with cancer, he continued to model the joy, courage, and presence that he had throughout his life. He declared that his mantra until the end would be 99 percent joy and 1 percent sorrow and he lived that fully and fiercely.

Michael is survived by his wife, Julie; children Noah and Laura and their spouses Emily Zarookian and Adam Gilman; grandchildren Thomas, Lillian, Ada, and Ismay; siblings Terry and Deborah Fralich; cousin Patricia Rea and her daughters/his goddaughters Avery and Scarlett; as well as many nieces, nephews, godchildren, “adopted” children, and dear friends.

There will be a memorial service at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 25 at the First Congregational Church, 19 Gloucester Hill Rd., New Gloucester. On Sunday, May 26, there will also be a celebration of life at Norumbega Cidery from 1 to 4 p.m. with an “open mic stage” where people are welcome to share music, poetry, readings, or memories. This will be an informal potluck BYOB gathering. Wear your walking shoes and enjoy the new Talking Brook Public Land as well.

In lieu of flowers, consider donating to Riding to the Top or New Beginnings in Lewiston.

ridingtothetop.org or newbeginmaine.org

Livestream available: youtube.com/live/g0N-DCKRYUk

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