2016-12-08 / Front Page

Biddeford Ladies Auxiliary member may be longest serving in U.S.

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer


Frances Allen with a photo of her late husband, Talmadge Allen, taken during his service as an engineer in the Army. (Anthony Aloisio photo) Frances Allen with a photo of her late husband, Talmadge Allen, taken during his service as an engineer in the Army. (Anthony Aloisio photo) OLD ORCHARD BEACH/BIDDEFORD – Frances Roberge Allen has served in the Ladies Auxiliary Unit of Biddeford’s AMVETS post, which meets at their meeting hall on Alfred Street, for 65 years. In that time, she has served as state-wide president twice, donated much time and energy – often by cooking – to support local veterans and their families, and made life-long friends.

Ladies Auxiliary Units are formally associated with AMVETS (short for American Veterans). Both are national social organizations dedicated to supporting American veterans. AMVETS members must be veterans, while Ladies Auxiliary members are the wives, daughters, sisters, mothers or grandmothers of veterans.

According to its website, AMVETS as a national organization first organized in 1944, at the end of World War II, and was chartered in 1947. According to Allen, Biddeford’s Auxiliary Unit Post 1 was the first established in Maine, and is the oldest existing in the United States.


Frances Allen reads a scrapbook made by her Biddeford AMVETS Auxiliary Unit in 1961. Allen said the book won an award at the AMVETS national level. In front of the book sits the hat from her uniform, which reflects the terms she served as state-wide president for AMVETS Auxiliary. AMVETS and its Auxiliary organization serve local veterans and other community support efforts, including food pantries and youth programs. (Anthony Aloisio photo) Frances Allen reads a scrapbook made by her Biddeford AMVETS Auxiliary Unit in 1961. Allen said the book won an award at the AMVETS national level. In front of the book sits the hat from her uniform, which reflects the terms she served as state-wide president for AMVETS Auxiliary. AMVETS and its Auxiliary organization serve local veterans and other community support efforts, including food pantries and youth programs. (Anthony Aloisio photo) “We’re number 10 on our charter, and it means that there was nine ahead of us, and they all disbanded,” Allen said.

Allen joined the Ladies Auxiliary in 1951, shortly after her husband, Talmadge Allen, joined the Biddeford AMVETS as a charter member. Talmadge Allen served with the Army in the Pacific during World War II, as an engineer.

According to AMVETS Post 1 Adjutant Gene Foster, the possibility that Allen is the longest serving auxiliary member in the United States was first brought up a few years ago by Rita Potvin, a Ladies Auxiliary member who had served in office at the local, state, and national level.

“Rita had a wealth of corporate knowledge,” Foster said.

However, Foster said that there is no effort underway that he knows of to verify the claim.

“The answer I got, ‘well, computer records don’t go back that far,’” Foster said. “My understanding was, if it’s not in the computer no one wanted to go look. It could be buried in some file cabinet some place in Maryland in Washington, D.C., where our national headquarters is, I don’t know.”

Allen was born in Canada and grew up in St. Come, in the province of Quebec, which is within 40 miles of the Maine border. Her maiden name was Roberge.

“That’s a good French name,” Allen said.

The Roberge family lived on a farm, she said, and her father worked in logging before they moved to Maine when she was 19.

“We moved here in 1941, just before the war started,” Allen said. “My father was an American citizen. We’d been having a hard time. He was a cook in a lumberjack camp, and he was tired of that. He found out that Biddeford was French and there was lots of work in the mill.”

Allen met her husband in 1942, the same year he joined the Army.

“When I first met my husband, I could not speak English and he could not speak French,” Allen said. “My husband is from Georgia. He was stationed in Saco.”

“We had lots of sign-language,” Allen added.

After her husband joined the military, Allen said she followed him around the country while he was trained, working at a cannery in Florida and then at a cookie factory in Virginia. When Talmadge Allen was sent to serve in the Pacific, Allen moved back with her parents in Biddeford and worked in the mill.

“I worked in the mill for 29 years,” Allen said. “I was a spinner.”

After the war, Talmadge and Frances Allen lived in Old Orchard Beach, where she still lives, and Talmadge Allen worked at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery until he retired.

Within a couple years after Allen joined the auxiliary, she became president of the Biddeford Unit.

“I can talk a lot, that’s why they picked me,” Allen said. “I was always ready to volunteer. One time they were having a Thanksgiving dinner, and they asked for pie. Everybody was pitching in and they said ‘how many pies can you make?’ And I said ‘how many do you need?’ They said 10.’ I said OK, I’ll make you 10 pies.’”

“I love to cook but I hate to clean,” Allen added.

Allen also served two one-year terms as state-wide president for Maine; first from 1956-57 and then from 1960-61. The Ladies Auxiliary raises funds mainly through dues and other fund raising, including a yearly raffle, but, Allen said, most of their work is done through volunteering projects. “We do lots for (Maine Veterans’ Homes, in Scarborough),” Allen said. “Biddeford had about 15 patients there, and at Christmastime we bring them each a big gift.”

Other projects include knitting and crafting, according to Barbara Jackson, secretary of the Biddeford Ladies Auxiliary. Her and others crocheted baby hats, teddy bears, and pillowcases for Southern Maine Health Care, Jackson said.

“We have knitted mittens, and taken them to the homeless,” Jackson continued. “We have done the same at school, adopt-a-class at school.”

According to Foster, AMVETS is a veteran’s service organization that is chartered by Congress, and Ladies Auxiliary is a subordinate organization authorized by their bylaws.

“The primary subordinate organization is the Ladies Auxiliary,” Foster said. “We also have a similar organization, the Sons of AMVETS.”

AMVETS as a primary organization that serves local veterans and the community in the same character as the Ladies Auxiliary. Foster said that the Biddeford AMVETS Post contributed money toward buying gifts for veterans living in Scarborough’s Maine Veterans’ Homes. It also has donated money to support a disabled veteran’s moose hunt in Maine, which funds a guide, transportation, meals and taking care of the animal after a kill.

AMVETS also serves the community of non-veterans, Foster said, including contributions to youth programs and homeless support institutions.

“Every year we make sure all the food pantries in Biddeford get a donation,” Foster said.

“Seventy-five percent of our donations stay right in the local area,” Foster continued. “Mostly in Biddeford.”

Allen said that a great value of participating in the Ladies Auxiliary is the friendships she has gained.

“At the AMVETS, we used to have a dance every Saturday night,” Allen said. “We wouldn’t miss it.”

She lamented the fact that in current times participation in Ladies Auxiliary, as well as other social organizations, is suffering. According to Allen, the group has about 80 members, but struggles to get members to show up to meetings or hold office.

“Too much Facebook, or whatever,” Allen said. “They stay home and they text and they do things. People are gonna forget how to talk.”

Allen met friends back in the early days of her membership in the auxiliary who she has known for more than 60 years. She has been with them while they raised families, although Allen and her husband did not have children of their own.

“One of the kids there, I bought him his first pair of shoes and he’s 64 years old,” Allen said. “We stayed friends. We still get together two, three times a year. The same people, you know, a long friendship.”

Allen in particular spoke about the family of Sharon Sevigny, of Biddeford, who owns LaCava, a boutique in downtown Biddeford. Allen sees the Sevigny family frequently, she said, and celebrates Thanksgiving and other occasions with them every year.

“I call them my second family,” Allen said. “When the children were young, we use to take them to Santa’s village.”

“When you don’t have any children sometimes you can adopt, you know, other family people,” Allen added.

For her birth family, Allen has four siblings: Brother Jean Roberge lives in New Hampshire, and sister Louise Laverriere in Biddeford. Another sister, Suzane Bolduc, of Biddeford, died about two years ago, and a third sister, Henriette Inkel, died about three decades ago in Connecticut, Allen said.

Allen said she has many memories from her long life and service to AMVETS. She shared a story that, at the beginning of April in 1968, she was in Washington, D.C., for an AMVETS event, and she was in the city the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in Tennessee. In Washington D.C., Allen said, there were riots in response to the news.

“There was big rioting,” Allen said. “They were burning stuff, and there was looting in the stores. We had to drive right through the middle of the city, and when we finally got to the hotel, they had a big chain in the hotel and we could not get out, and nobody could come in. It was scary.”

“That was my only time I went to Washington, I never wanted to go back,” Allen added.

Of Allen’s character and service to AMVETS, Jackson and Foster both spoke well.

“She has been a staunch supporter of all programs,” Jackson said. “Even one Thanksgiving, I think she made 15 pies and brought them in for the meal that AMVETS provides each year. She’s the go-to for dessert when there’s anything going on.”

“(She) is incredibly pleasant to everyone,” Foster said. “I can’t think of anybody who has any derogatory thing to say about Frances.”

Allen’s husband died in 2004, and she now lives on her own at the home they shared. At 94, Allen is still independent. She recently bought a new car and she gets out often.

“I’m happy with my life now,” Allen said. “It’s quiet and I do what I want, I eat what I want, and I drive when I want.”

“I have lots of friends, I have good family,” she said. “I’m not lonely. I knit lots.”

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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