WATERVILLE — Roger Derosier remembers delivering Meals on Wheels to a new client, a woman in her 80s who had no contacts in the area. He was the only person she saw on a weekly basis.

At first, she was quiet; but as time went on, she started warming up to him, asking occasionally if he’d mind moving a piece of furniture or doing some other small chore around her house.

“I really kind of felt for her. Her only other contact was in New Hampshire,” Derosier recalled. “She was just a tiny, little thing. One day, she said, ‘My husband and I used to dance, and I miss dancing.’ She and her husband used to do ballroom dancing for competition.”

Derosier recalled asking what kind of dancing she enjoyed and she said she loved to waltz.

Derosier got an idea.

“I said, ‘Let’s put some music on and we’ll waltz,’ ” he said. “We waltzed each time I came, once a week.”

Derosier, a full-time volunteer for Spectrum Generations Muskie Center on Gold Street, has been delivering Meals on Wheels for five years and knows intimately the effect it has on people who are shut-ins, elderly or disabled.

That is why he is such a big supporter of the annual Gene and Lucille Letourneau Ice Fishing Derby, which raises money for not only Meals on Wheels, but also other Spectrum Generations Muskie Center programs that promote lifelong learning, health, wellness, nutrition, community engagement and social well-being for older and disabled adults.

The Muskie Center volunteers deliver more than 2,000 meals a week in Somerset and Waldo counties and northern Kennebec County. While the major focus is Meals on Wheels, the fishing derby fundraiser also benefits adult day services, congregate dining, consumer information resources, Medicare clinics and other Muskie Center activities.

The 20th annual statewide derby, hosted by Spectrum Generations and sponsored by Waterville Masonic Lodge No. 33, Nale Law Offices and the Sukeforth Family Foundation, will be held Feb. 18 for both adults and children. They may fish Feb. 18 on any legal water body in Maine for the derby. Fish are weighed at the Muskie Center on Gold Street in Waterville from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The first-place adult winner gets $100, and second prize in the adult category is $50. In the children’s category, for those who are 15 and younger, first place is $50, second place is $30 and third place, $20.

Adults may catch salmon, brook trout, brown trout, togue, splake, pickerel, pike and white perch. Children may catch the same fish as adults, plus yellow perch and black crappie.

“The derby is very important,” said Bob Marin, regional center director for Spectrum Generations in Somerset and Northern Kennebec counties. “It is one of our ‘majors’ as far as fundraisers go. Being a major, we count on it quite a bit. Prior to working here, I volunteered for this event. It’s near and dear to me to make this go. Last year was our biggest one yet. Revenues were over $10,000.”

Derosier and Marin met Tuesday at the Muskie Center to discuss the derby with longtime volunteer Paul Jacques, a former state representative and former deputy commissioner of the state Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife; and Angela Derosby, nutrition and volunteer coordinator for Spectrum Generations Muskie Center.

Jacques recalled his longtime friendship with Gene and Lucille Letourneau, for whom the derby is named. Gene died in 1998, and Lucille in 1996. Gene Letourneau was the outdoors writer for the Morning Sentinel for decades and wrote a column, “Sportsmen Say.” His wife was an avid supporter of Meals on Wheels. Though she did not have a driver’s license, she hired a person to drive and accompany her as she delivered Meals on Wheels, said Jacques, who also has been chairman of the board of the Waterville Housing Authority 36 years.

“If she found somebody who was alone and not eating, she’d try to get them signed up,” Jacques said of Lucille Letourneau. “She was probably one of the finest, sweetest women in the world, so anything she ever asked anyone, they’d say, ‘Yes.’ “

Jacques went on many fishing and hunting adventures with Gene Letourneau, who was a great storyteller and columnist, he said.

“He was probably one of the nicest, most generous people I met in my life, and he knew the out of doors like no one,” Jacques said. “He really thought that what his wife was doing for Meals on Wheels was a good thing. Gene would say, ‘Whatever Mama wants to do is fine with me.’ They were very generous, very open-hearted. They were just great people.”

FISHING FOR A GOOD CAUSE

Tournament rules require that fish be caught on the day of the derby, that they not be frozen, and that every entrant have a valid ticket. Tickets cost $3 for one, $5 for two and $10 for five and may be purchased at bait stores and at the Muskie Center, at 38 Gold St. The tickets, which also may be obtained by calling the Muskie Center at 873-4745, double as a drawing ticket for a door prize of a Yeti Tundra 45 cooler package with a value of $620, sponsored by John and Lucinda Nale Law Offices.

That prize will be handed out after the fish weigh-in at the Muskie Center, where the fun continues after the derby with a 5:30 p.m. live auction, sharing of a birthday cake celebrating 20 years of the derby and food by Courtney’s Hot Dogs. Holly Hannon will have a crafting table for children, where she will teach them how to make crafts. Auction items include donated wildlife prints, a fire pit, a weekend at a camp, gift certificates and a night’s stay at a yurt in Durham.

Marin said the derby, which typically draws more than 100 fishing enthusiasts, and the celebration afterward are fun family events; and the derby itself is a healthful outdoor activity for children and adults. While other events happen on Feb. 18 that might take people away from the derby, organizers are not going to let that keep them from pushing forward with it, and there are other ways to donate to the cause, he said.

“We’re going to keep our foot on the gas when it comes to serving our clients,” he said. “It is Daytona Weekend, so the Daytona race is the same Sunday that this derby is on. People can donate all the way up to the date of the derby, and we are collecting items for the auction. If somebody is looking for a charity to help out, this is a great one.”

People typically fish for the derby on China, Messalonskee and Moosehead lakes, as well as McGrath and Great ponds. Many participants start around sunrise.

Marin, whose wife is Annette Sukeforth Marin, also helps put on the Sukeforth Family Festival of Trees to benefit Hospice Volunteers of Waterville Area, Maine Children’s Home for Little Wanderers and Spectrum Generations Meals on Wheels program. He and his family support other charities as well.

Meals on Wheels, he said, helps older people remain in their homes, receive nutritional meals and have human contact. Derosby said that contact is critical for many reasons.

“Meals on Wheels provides a safety check,” she said. “Most everyone has somebody, but there are some that have nobody, and the safety check is very important.”

Shut-ins who have animals as companions and need pet food also benefit from “Animeals,” or pet food delivered by Meals on Wheels drivers, according to Derosby. Spectrum Generations applies for grants from Meals on Wheels of America to support Animeals, which takes the pressure off meal recipients, according to Derosby.

“They don’t need to make the tough choice of feeding themselves or their beloved pets,” she said.

Derosier, the Meals on Wheels driver, is married to Mary Derosier, former executive director of Mid-Maine United Way. He said he has seen some sad situations during his time delivering meals. Many older people are lonely and crave a visit from someone, he said.

“There’s quite a few that wouldn’t even see their own relatives. It seems like they’re abandoned by their families, and it’s kind of shocking that they do that,” he said. “They really look forward to that one contact during the week.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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