Cultural leader honored with award from France

By Juliana L’Heureux

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A Franco-American cultural leader was honored at Biddeford's 26th La Kermesse Festival by the consul general of France, Francois Gauthier.

Gauthier came to La Kermesse with his wife, Francoise, from their home at the Consulate in Boston, to award a special tribute to Norman Beaupre, a Franco-American and Biddeford native. On June 29, Gauthier presented France's l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) to Beaupre at ceremonies held in the festival's Big Tent at St. Louis Field.

Beaupre was nominated for the l'ordre because of his 30 years as a writer, a professor of French and for his lifetime achievements supporting the French culture.

Beaupre is the author of nine books in French and English. His nomination for the esteemed award was supported because he demonstrates tireless devotion to French culture, said Gauthier.

His achievements include writing novels, plays and a biography, "L'Enclume et le Couteau," about the life and works of Biddeford's artisan wood cutter Adelard Cote. In October, Beaupre's French-language play "La Souillonne" will be performed in Paris, starring actress Marie Cormier.

Moreover, Beaupre assisted with the creation of La Kermesse by working with the organizing committee more than 26 years ago.

Gauthier awarded Beaupre the title of officer in l'ordre, decorating him with his nation's beautiful eight-point medal adorned with stripes of green ribbon during a bilingual ceremony attended by 200 people.

Gauthier described the 400-year history of Maine's Franco-Americans beginning with the 1604 colony at St. Croix Island, settled by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain and Sieur de Monts.

He acknowledged the achievements of Franco-Americans through four centuries of immigration and resettlement from Quebec and Nova Scotia (l'Acadie) into Maine and New England.

Moreover, Gauthier reminded the audience about how the French arrival in New England preceded the English Pilgrims landing in Plymouth, Mass., by 16 years.

"Monsieur Beaupre enthusiastically supports the development of French culture and language. He sincerely promotes his Franco-American heritage during his extensive travels, especially to France and Canada," said Gauthier. "He brings a positive focus to the Franco-Americans when he writes about the culture in French and English," he said.

Beaupre told the crowd, "Aujourd'hui j'en jouis de ses fruits tout en voyant ma famille et mes amis se rassembler ici pour e render homage," he said. (Today, I rejoice with seeing all of my family and friends here to render me this honor.) Beaupre's wife, Lucille, and daughter Diane were with him as Gauthier presented him with the award and medal.

L'Ordre des Arts et Lettres was established in 1957 by the French minister of culture. Former French President Charles de Gaulle confirmed the award in 1963 as the official recognition for significant contributions to the arts, literature and the propagation of French culture.

Although it is usually presented to French citizens, being a native of France is not a requirement for a nomination. One recent non-French recipient of the award was the late newspaper columnist Art Buchwald. Other Americans awarded l'ordre are singer Diana Ross, actors Robert Redford and George Clooney, theater producer and comedian Mel Brooks, novelist Danielle Steele and actress Meryl Streep.

"This award also recognizes La Kermesse, in my home in Biddeford and Maine," said Beaupre.

Rep. Paulette G. Beaudoin, D-Biddeford, also presented Beaupre with special recognition in a proclamation from the Maine Legislature.

Published in the July 10, 2008, Portland Press Herald, Neighbors Edition

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Copyright © 2008, Portland Press Herald, Portland, Maine and Juliana L'Heureux