FAIRFIELD — Joe Lemieux, 87, watched as workers cut down the 25-foot-tall spruce tree on his front lawn Monday and loaded it onto a flatbed trailer to be hauled to Waterville, where it will become the official city Christmas tree in Castonguay Square downtown.

Lemieux’s niece, Bernadette LaCroix, looked up at her 6-foot-3-inch-tall uncle, who was smiling as the evergreen emitted the pungent scent of spruce.

“I hope you don’t change your mind this afternoon when it’s gone,” LaCroix said.

Lemieux assured her he was happy to donate the tree to the city. He had strung lights on it every Christmas for years until it got too tall, and he had trouble fixing the lights when one went out, causing the whole string to fail.

“Something else I won’t have to mow around,” he said with a chuckle.

It was just after 7 a.m. and Lemieux was happy with all the commotion. LaCroix, of Oakland; her sister, Patricia Hildreth, of Fairfield; and brother Gilbert Lemieux, of Clinton, all came to watch the Waterville Public Works crew cut down and remove the tree.

“I planted it probably 20, 25 years ago when it was probably 3 feet high,” Joe Lemieux had said earlier. “I’ve lived here 47 years. We built this house 47 years ago.”

Lemieux grew up on a farm in North Vassalboro, the youngest of 12 children, and worked 33 years as a millwright and in maintenance at Keyes Fibre Co.

Three weeks ago, his wife, Theresa, 89, whom he had taken care of the last few years, died. He spends much of his time now sitting in his living room chair, gazing out through his large picture window that overlooks Oakland Street, and watching the traffic going by and the children playing across the street. The tree, he said, blocked his view, so he decided he was going to cut it down.

But LaCroix, fearing he would try to do it himself, called Waterville Parks & Recreation Director Matt Skehan, whom she has known for many years, to ask if Waterville might want it for the holiday tree downtown. Skehan drove out to look at it and deemed it worthy of the honored spot next to City Hall.

“It should look nice downtown,” Skehan said, as Mike Folsom, of public works, cut the tree down with a chain saw and Dan Main cleared huge branches. “It’s very symmetrical. I think it’s going to look great.”

Folsom, he said, is a pro and pays close attention to detail.

“He does things right,” Skehan said.

Strapped to a bucket loader driven by Chris Demerchant, the giant tree was lowered onto the trailer of the truck driven by Dan Wilson as Joe Lemieux, whom his nieces and nephew refer to affectionately as “Uncle Pug,” watched. They said he always has been their favorite uncle, as he is kind and humble.

His nephew, Gilbert Lemieux, said his uncle not only built his own house, he also built the tractor in his garage.

“He’s very, very smart,” he said. “He left his signature all over the mill at Huhtamaki (formerly Keyes Fibre Co.). He built equipment there. The plant engineer said, ‘Your uncle Joe — he reeks of genius.’ He could build anything. He’d see a picture of anything and he could build it. He’s just always been a very, very fine gentleman, very good, especially to us kids. He was like a second father to us, a very good influence.”

Since their uncle’s wife died, family members have been visiting him more and keeping an eye on him.

“For the past three years, he took care of his wife,” Gilbert said. “He’s a saint. If he’s not a saint, he’s the next thing to it. If someday I’m half as good as he is, I’ll be happy.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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