90-year-old Roxbury woman captures her heritage, family and community in words and photos

Hazel Hodgkins, left, of Roxbury and her daughter, Tina Howard, view photos of Rumford’s story at the Augusta Rumford Center at the University of Maine on Lowell Street. Hodgkins, 90, has spent much of his life researching the history of French Acadians in Rumford. Bruce Farrin/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — For most of her 90s, Hazel Hodgkins of Roxbury has taken a keen interest in her French Acadian heritage, her family and her community.

Along the way, she shared her research on more than 30 years of Sun Journal and Rumford Falls Times clippings, microfiche at the Rumford Public Library, and physical copies from the Rumford Historical Society.

“I never had grandparents who lived nearby,” Hodgkins said. “They were all in Canada. My parents were from New Brunswick and they never really told us anything. My curiosity got stronger as I grew up.

“It wasn’t until I was 14 that I met my grandparents, my grandmothers because my grandfathers had died,” she said.

Hodgkins was the fifth of 15 children born in Rumford after his parents moved from Connecticut. His father was a lumberjack.

“During the Depression, he had to move around a lot to find work,” she said. He ended up in Rumford through the Works Progress Administration and helped build the standing wall on River Street near the Morse Bridge.

“I’ve always loved this area because it was like a fairy tale to me,” Hodgkins said. “We had a community free run. Rumford was our playground. I would like to go back to my childhood. »

Growing up, she was also aware of the stigma of her French Acadian history.

“Living in a town like Rumford, we were looked down on a bit,” Hodgkins said. “It really didn’t bother us. There were a lot of good people, but there was a certain group that didn’t want anything to do with us.

She described her parents as good, hard-working people who went to church and sent their children to school.

“We were poor but we were happy,” she said. “As many children as we had, my father never accepted welfare.”

Her pride in her French Acadian heritage led her in 2008 to ask elected officials to approve the installation of a plaque near the Rumford Public Library commemorating Le Grand Dérangement, the period between 1755 and 1764 when the British ethnically cleansed French-speaking residents of the Maritime Provinces from their land for refusing to sign an oath of allegiance to the British.

Hodgkins and other members of the Acadian Heritage Society, Dot Bernard, Lorraine Legere and Bob Daigle, installed the plaque on October 31, 2009.

“I wanted people to know that it was the Acadians who helped build this city,” she said.

Her daughter, Tina Howard, an administrative support supervisor at the University of Maine’s Augusta Rumford Center since 2003, established a small collection of her mother’s papers in 2017 on a university wall at the Tech Center at 60 Lowell St.

Howard matted and framed the photos and added a biography to each. The theme is a story from Rumford Island.

“I can’t speak for my siblings, but I really appreciate knowing the history, not only of the city, but also of the family history,” Hodgkins said.

“History should never be forgotten,” she said. “I tried to interest my siblings and anyone else how important this story is. Most of them don’t care. When I pass, who will pick it up? she asked.

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