Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series of photo columns on “Care.”


What does it mean to care?

Some people simply do not care.

Others care deeply. Sacrificially. They will give you the shirt off their backs or their last dollar. Sometimes a hot meal and a warm, soft place to lay your head.

Ask 103-year-old Estelle Routhier, of Waterville, “What does it mean to care?”


Estelle Routhier, 103, looks toward Kennedy Memorial Drive while standing on her porch at her Waterville home on Oct. 9. Routhier moved to the house in 1956 when the road was a two-lane dirt path called Oakland Road. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

In a thick French accent and with help from daughter. Shirley, to translate, Estelle will narrate an adventure that began in Saint-Côme, Quebec, Canada, in October 1916. It eventually led her to a small Waterville house, just off a quiet, two-lane dirt road known as the Oakland Road.

On Oct. 3, the 103rd anniversary of Estelle’s birth, the house was still the place where memories are made, and where chocolate cake, trimmed in vanilla frosting, was served. This time with three glowing candles reading “103.”

In three puffs, they were out. The cake was sliced and passed around and all the pieces came with generous helpings of care and love.



“This lady, she’s like part of the family now,” said Estelle’s son Ralph, while pointing to certified nursing assistant Barbara Kowalik.


Kowalik responded with a soft, “Thank you.”

“I’ve got to do this for you,” said Barbara, as she leaned into Estelle’s ear.

The shift began with hair care, a manicure and food preparation.

Estelle Routhier, 103, has her nails painted during a manicure given by certified nursing assistant Barbara Kowalik at Routhier’s Waterville home on Oct. 9. Kowalik has provided care to Routhier for 13 years. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

Very simple words are important to their communication. Kowalik is Polish and Estelle is French.

“I love people. I love taking care of them,” Kowalik said. “It makes me happy and gives me good feeling. I love doing this.”

Kowalik has seen a lot through the eyes of the woman for whom she cares.


Before Estelle’s memory began to fail, she talked about her life, where she grew up, her family and siblings. She remembered the children she cared for and baby-sat for.

Certified nursing assistant Barbara Kowalik, back, has cared for Estelle Routhier, 103, front, for 13 years. They are shown after Estelle’s hair has been combed and styled at Routhier’s Waterville home on Oct. 9. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

Kowalik and Estelle looked at photos together and talked about travel. She liked to joke, have a glass of wine with her meal, socialize and watch television, according to Kowalik. Estelle loved to read, especially French books, poetry, love stories.

At 103, Estelle’s day begins with the newspaper. She reads the obituaries, scanning the names and faces for people she knew. She saves the police report for the end.



Estelle got her start in Saint-Côme, Quebec. It was a good place. Her family was warm and well fed. The house was clean and well kept.


Being the oldest of 14 children came with responsibility and like other children, Estelle grew up fast. She remembers changing and washing lots of diapers.

In 1926, the family home and much of their small village went up in smoke. The community reeled. The children, including Estelle, were spread out among the town’s people, said Estelle’s son Ralph, 75.

The elders, including Estelle’s father, began to rebuild after the fire.

Her dad’s skills as a carpenter were well suited to the town’s recovery. On the other side of hard times, the family was reunited and carried on.

Estelle Routhier, 103, center, and her children, from left, Ralph Routhier, 75, Patrick Routhier, 69, Ray Routhier, 66, and Shirley Huard, 62, come together for a photo as they prepare to celebrate their mother s birthday at the family home in Waterville on Oct. 3. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

Estelle worked alongside her dad in the daily operation of the family’s funeral home.

“He was a carpenter,” Estelle said.


He would build caskets while serving the needs of families dealing with the deaths of loved ones.

Estelle, then a teenager, would cut and style the hair of the decedents. She understood her role, but admits she preferred working with the living. Later in life, she was a professional hairdresser.



In 1958, the Oakland Road in Waterville was a quiet street on which to raise a family. It was a two-lane dirt road with a horse farm and country store across the street from the Routhiers’ house.

Later, it was renamed Kennedy Memorial Drive. Then, the town and many businesses began to cover the hills and fill in grassy areas around the Routhier’s small home.

Estelle Routhier, 103, center, says goodbye to Paul Yvon of St. Come, Canada, following Routhier’s 103rd birthday party at her Waterville home on Oct. 3. Pictured with Routhier is her son Ray, behind left, and niece Danielle, right, of St. Come, Canada. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

Estelle and husband, Philip, paid $5,500 for the place, according son Ralph. The family shared an $8-a-month Waterville apartment before that.

They raised their four kids at the house, picked night crawlers from the front yard for fishermen, hosted numerous garage sales and made countless memories.

Rich Abrahamson is a staff photographer for the Morning Sentinel. 

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