Kenneth Lyle Cianchette always believed there was a better way to do things. 

An inventor, he was quiet and pensive – regarded as “the thinker” among the brothers who formed Cianbro, one of the state’s most successful construction firms.

Kenneth L. Cianchette, a founder of Cianbro Corp., died Feb. 7. Photo courtesy of the Cianchette family

Ken Cianchette, the last member of the company’s founders, died in his sleep on Feb. 7, his family said. He was 98.

Cianchette was born Sept. 28, 1924, and grew up in Pittsfield, the middle among seven children. He graduated from Maine Central Institute and was drafted into the Army, where, according to his obituary, he was tested and rated as a “mechanical genius.” He served for three years and returned home in 1946 to work in construction with the rest of his family.

In 1949, he and brothers Carl and Bud formed Cianchette Bros. Inc., which would later be known as Cianbro Corp. Their brother Chuck joined them a few years later.

Today, the company is 100% employee-owned, has locations in 40 states and employs over 4,000 people.


Some of the company’s Maine projects include construction of the Casco Bay Bridge, the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge in Kittery, the Puritan Medical Products factory expansion, the Wex global headquarters and the Cross Insurance Arena. 

Cianbro also is part of a team of contractors awarded a $1.7 billion contract in 2021 to enlarge and reconfigure a dry dock for submarines at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.

“They did so much for the economy by way of infrastructure,” said Dana Connors, outgoing president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “I doubt that time will ever allow us to forget the life and the legacy of the Cianchette brothers and what they meant to the state of Maine.” 

But Cianbro wasn’t Cianchette’s only venture.

“A pragmatic doer,” according to his obituary, in 1953 he formed Ken Cianchette Inc., which focused on sewer and water projects, bridges and buildings. He returned to Cianchette Bros. in 1961.

A short time later, he invented and patented two construction devices, the Chinbro pipe grab and beam clamp, and formed Chinbro Manufacturing Inc.


In the 1970s, he invented a giant peat moss harvesting machine nicknamed the Martian Bigfoot, which harvested peat from bogs in Down East Maine, according to daughter Ann Cianchette.


Ken Cianchette held many roles, his daughter said: construction leader, patent holder, pilot, veteran, mentor and consummate family man. 

A father of five, grandfather and great-grandfather to dozens, he was devoted to his family. But it was his role as a brother that he was perhaps most proud of, grandson Michael Cianchette said.

“The abiding love he had for his siblings was special,” he said. “Family businesses can be tough, but they really loved and respected each other.”

Ann Cianchette agreed.


“His brothers were his best friends. He thought the world of them,” she said. “It was really hard for him to be the last man standing.” 

Their dynamic worked well. Carl was the eldest, Bud was the businessman, Chuck was the politician, and Ken was the thinker, Michael Cianchette said.

Together, the “four dynamo brothers” possessed all the qualities you look for in a leader, Connors said. “All had it in different ways and collectively they were a force to be reckoned with.”

Cianchette was soft-spoken and gave deep thought to his words, Connors added.

“He had that innate quality of taking an idea and turning it into a product that made (a task) better or easier.” 

Peter Vigue, former president and CEO of Cianbro, said Cianchette’s out-of-the-box thinking was a boon to both the company and Vigue. “He always had an open mind, a great attitude,” Vigue said. 


Cianchette watched closely, asked a lot of questions and listened well. 

“When you work with a person like that, it helps you shape your (own) mind and behaviors,” Vigue said. “He was a role model.”


Cianbro played a major part in Cianchette’s life, but not the only part, Ann Cianchette said.

He was a lifelong learner, with a love of literature and poetry. He tried to help people in need. Whether through teaching, mentoring, giving money or building a pond or a parking lot, he wanted to make a difference, she said.

He was, his daughter said, “a true person for others.” 


Michael Cianchette agreed, saying that his grandfather lived by the credence “leave things better than you found them.”

His goal was never accolades, Ann Cianchette said, though there were many. 

Ken Cianchette was inducted into the Maine Central Institute Hall of Fame, awarded an honorary doctorate from Unity College, and, along with the rest of the Cianchette family, awarded the 2017 History Maker Award by the Maine Historical Society. 

Despite the awards, he was humble.

“If he had to give some sort of acceptance speech, he would turn it around and thank the other people,” Ann Cianchette said. 

Ken Cianchette’s legacy, his grandson said, is both inspiring and daunting. 

“At 98 years, for anyone that’s a great run, but for the things he saw and did and accomplished in his life, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say he made an impact on tens of thousands of lives,” Michael Cianchette said. “He set the bar for us to live up to what he expected and emulate his life to the best of our ability.” 

There will be a memorial service for Ken Cianchette on Saturday from 2-4 p.m. at Maine Central Institute, 295 Main St., Pittsfield.

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