WATERVILLE — Arthur H. Turmelle’s lifelong dream has been to rehabilitate all the houses and apartment buildings that need it in his North End neighborhood one building at a time.

Turmelle, 55, and his wife, Connie, 56, have spent 29 years working to make the neighborhood a safe, clean and affordable place to live — and they have no intention of stopping.

They bought their first building 29 years ago when their son, Arthur J. Turmelle, was born, and now they have more than 50 in a double square block area. The buildings house about 100 families.

“It’s a passion,” Connie Turmelle said. “We do have a passion for this neighborhood. Our goal is a safe environment for families — clean healthy living for families — and for neighbors to get to know neighbors.”

For their efforts, and for all the work they do behind the scenes for the community, the Turmelles on Tuesday were awarded the 2015 Spirit of America Award. Mayor Nicholas Isgro presented the annual award at a City Council meeting to a standing ovation.

The awards are through the Augusta-based Spirit of America Foundation, which takes nominations from towns and presents awards throughout the state. In Kennebec County, there were 99 award winners in 2014, including Earl and Annette Rancourt of Waterville. The 2014 winners, including the Rancourts, will be recognized at a ceremony in the State House Hall of Flags at 1 p.m. Friday.

Isgro said the Turmelles work tirelessly to keep the neighborhood attractive. They also work behind the scenes to help those less fortunate.

The couple were surprised to learn they were chosen for the award — and did not know why they were considered for it.

“We were very pleased and honored — oh, my goodness,” Connie Turmelle said Wednesday. “Arthur and I just looked at each other and said, ‘We need to understand this better.'”

A modest Arthur Turmelle said he was touched by the accolade.

“There are so many other people that could be more deserving than we are — there are a lot of hard workers out there, I’m sure — although it’s nice to be recognized.”

Turmelle grew up on Birch Street in the North End with six siblings in a home that had been in his family since 1878. For four years during his childhood, however, his family moved to Rhode Island because his father was in the military. In Newport, R.I., he met Connie.

“We were both 10 and our dads were both in the military,” she said. “I had a mad crush on him. We lived on the same street in military housing.”

She was one of eight children, and the two families became close. Later, after Arthur’s family moved back to the North End of Waterville, her family would visit.

“We all had friends in common and remained friends and visited here in the summer,” she recalled. “We rented a big camp.”

The two fell in love and later married, making their home in the North End. They had a daughter, Joie, now 33 and a pediatric nurse practitioner in Boston. About four years later, they had Arthur, who works with his parents in the family business, Arcon Realty.

Connie, a full-time pre-kindergarten teacher at Mount Merici School, does all the office work and apartment and home showings while the two Arthurs do all the rehabilitation work on homes and apartments.

The family led a tour Wednesday through an apartment in a large three-story, three-unit building they own on Maple Street. The first-floor apartment, which they’d just renovated, was pristine with gleaming original hardwood floors, freshly painted walls, new light fixtures and kitchen appliances and a newly tiled kitchen floor.

They said they rehabilitate spaces to something they would consider living in themselves.

Arthur H. Turmelle said the building was previously owned by Ludy and Pacy Levine, who formerly owned Levine’s clothing store downtown and many rental units in the city, including in the North End.

The Levine brothers lived in a large, old, beautiful house on Ticonic Street, and the elder Turmelle, who owned a contracting business, was their personal carpenter.

He and the Levines became close friends, and Turmelle eventually bought the Levine’s home and now lives it.

On a stroll Wednesday down Maple and Ticonic streets, the Turmelles pointed to a building on the corner that housed the original Levine’s store, which later moved to Main Street downtown.

Across the street and a bit to the north is a building the family owns that houses Juliette’s Deli & Bakery, owned by Turmelle’s sister, Juliette Turmelle.

The couple at one time owned 18 buildings and then bought 33 from the Levine family.

“We look around the neighborhood and we see so much more that needs to be done,” Connie said.

The Turmelles say their main focus is on family.

“Maybe people don’t realize Arthur and I don’t have a lot of toys or travel all over the place.We do a lot of stuff with family,” Connie said.

She said she works hard to screen prospective tenants to make sure they will live peacefully in the neighborhood.

“We ask them to be good tenants of the property,” she said. “Sweep the sidewalks, take care of your home. Take care of your family. When we have a new person move into a building, I call everybody in the building. I say, ‘Hey, you’re getting a new neighbor this week — feel free to introduce yourselves.’ People don’t do that anymore.”

Arthur Turmelle’s mother, Dorothy, 84, lives in the family house on Birch Street, and Juliette Turmelle lives next door.

Turmelle was involved in the North End Neighborhood Association, which worked to rejuvenate the neighborhood. The family helps host the North End Night Out, a neighborhood barbecue and social event started several years ago by former City Councilor Steve Aucoin, who at the time directed the North End satellite office of the Waterville Boys and Girls Club.

“Steve Aucoin started it,” Connie Turmelle said. “We have just continued it for him. We have fun with it. Our son is involved.”

Many years ago, the family owned a building on Ticonic Street that later housed the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter. After the shelter moved to its new building on Colby Street, the younger Arthur Turmelle bought it back and rehabilitated it.

At the City Council meeting Tuesday night, Councilor Rosemary Winslow, D-Ward 3, one of the founders of the homeless shelter, praised the Turmelle family.

“They have, over the years, worked tirelessly to really change the North End,” Winslow said. “We’re talking about several generations that are making a difference. You couldn’t pick a better family. We thank you. We are very honored. We’re enriched.”

City Manager Michael Roy echoed her sentiments.

“The best way I can describe them is ‘quiet presence,'” he said. “They’re very humble and stay behind the scenes, but they’re always there. They’ve always been there.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.