WATERVILLE — Ask Gilman Pelletier why he loves to help people, and he tells the story of a woman he got to know while delivering meals to her home.

She was elderly and couldn’t really drive any more, but wanted her car registered, he said. Just being able to see that car sitting in the driveway gave her a feeling of independence.

“I drove to Augusta with all the information they needed and they gave me her registration and I brought it back to her,” he recalled. “It was like I’d given her a million dollars.”

It’s the vision of her joyful smile — and those of other people he delivers Meals on Wheels to — that keeps him giving.

“I just believe that where we can help, we should help,” he said. “Period. No conditions.”

At 73, Pelletier spends most of his time doing for others. For many years he’s mowed lawns for neighbors who can not do it, taken absentee ballots to shut-ins and nursing home residents, driven people to the polls and helped families of those serving in the military. He has been delivering Meals on Wheels in three counties for 26 years, helps his priest at funerals and is a lector for Corpus Christi Parish.

As a member of the Franco-American Heritage Society, he helps organize the city’s annual Franco-American Family Festival.

He recently was named the Bourque-Lanigan American Legion Post 5 Legionnaire of the Year for outstanding leadership, and given the Commander’s Appreciation Award for devoted service. Pelletier is first vice commander of the legion and a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

A 25-year veteran of the U.S. Army, he was a lieutenant colonel who served in Vietnam and worked at the Pentagon.

Talk to anyone for whom he volunteers and you hear tales of what sets him apart from others.

“I have never known a more kind and selfless person in my life,” City Clerk Arlene Strahan said.

Cheryl Gifford, manager of Senior Spectrum’s Muskie Center, said the impact he has made on her agency is phenomenal.

“Simply put, he is the perfect human recipe, made up of intelligence, good health, a giving personality, topped with a caring smile, sprinkled with kindness and a touch of humor, leaving one feeling full and thankful.”

Gifford nominated Pelletier for the monthly “2 Those Who Care” award for volunteerism, developed by WLBZ Channel 2 and United Way of Eastern Maine. Strahan and Gov. Paul LePage did the same — and appointed Pelletier to the We Support Our Troops Advisory Board.

A letter from LePage to organizers of the 2 Those Who Care award, dated July 6, says Pelletier’s devotion to community and country, his reliability and personality are just a few of his strengths.

“Whether it’s cutting fire wood, mowing a lawn or cleaning chimneys, when Gil is called upon, he responds the only way he knows how — with an ‘I’ll be right there!'” LePage’s letter says.

Mayor Dana Sennett, City Manager Michael Roy and city councilors on Tuesday bestowed the 2011 Spirit of America Volunteer Award for selfless service on Pelletier.

Pelletier, sitting with his wife, Marilyn and daughters Susan, Debra and Kimberly, said he was surprised by the honor.

In typical modest fashion, Pelletier credited volunteers everywhere for their good deeds.

“I thank you for this honor, but with your permission, I’d like to accept this award for all the volunteers in Waterville and Maine,” he said.

Roy said Pelletier does not ask for recognition, but deserves it. Recreation Director Matt Skehan echoed his sentiments.

“Gil’s right — there are a lot of volunteers — but none of them is quite like Gil.”

Gifford, of the Muskie Center, said Pelletier shovels steps for Meals on wheels recipients, does yard work, drives veterans to parades, picks up food for the Muskie Center when staff is in a pinch and listens to everyone with his full attention.

Pelletier also recruits members to the military organizations to which he belongs, saying it is difficult to draw younger members.

“I’m proud to be a veteran,” he said. “I’m proud to be part of the Legion and VFW.”

Ask him where his penchant for helping those less fortunate comes from and he speaks of his parents, who raised him in Aroostook County.

“They did it themselves,” he said. “In those days, we all helped each other.”

He said while serving in Vietnam many years ago he had a talk with a higher power.

“If you get me the heck out of here, and all the people I’m responsible for…” he recalled saying.

“Maybe there was an unwritten or unsaid thing in my mind that I would help wherever I can,” he added. “I feel rewarded that I am able to do this.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

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