FORT KENT, Maine — When the University of Maine at Fort Kent planned to demolish a house on campus, a St. John man refused to let his childhood home disappear for a green space.
As part of its 2017 Master Plan, the university aimed to knock down the home where carpenter Dennis Cyr grew up — along with an old house where the presidents used to live — in order to unite the two sides of campus on Pleasant Street. The plan also included building a new welcome center, which is nearing completion.
Instead, Cyr, 62, purchased his family home and will relocate the home to a lot adjacent to his current house, renovate and move his own family into it.
Cyr recalls growing up in the little white house where, as a teenager, visitors came to the Acadia House next door — which housed UMFK presidents.
“When dignitaries would come to town, the presidents would bring them over to see my parents,” Cyr said. “I remember one time John Glenn the astronaut came over and I was shaking his hand in the living room.”
Cyr’s parents — Dr. Norman Cyr, a popular local dentist, and his wife Bernice — originally purchased the home from a catalog in the early 1950s. It was shipped by train from New Jersey to Fort Kent in six pieces. The couple lived there with their 10 children, and remained in it for the rest of their lives.
“We had a big family — a lot of memories in the house,” he said.
Among his youthful escapades, he recalled fishing the nearby Fish River for suckers, catching them inside abandoned cars that used to line the riverbank behind the university. He and his siblings would play behind the house in the potato field, which is now the campus soccer pitch.
“The farmer hated us kids playing in his potatoes,” Cyr said. “He used to call and sass my parents and say they didn’t know how to raise kids. We were always scared of the farmer.”
Cyr, proprietor of County Home Inspections and Renovations and a plumbing inspector for five St. John Valley towns, said he was inspired to take up his line of work as a young child living in the home.
“I remember them remodeling it — fixing the basement when I was really, really young- maybe 5 or 6 years old,” Cyr said. “That’s where I learned some of my carpentry skills, watching the carpenter doing his work. I was fascinated by that.”
Cyr said the home retains physical reminders of his childhood, including some damage from a too-tall Christmas tree and an old crank phone built into the wall.
Shortly before his father died from ALS, Cyr also removed the bathtub and installed a walk-in shower to make things easier for his father.
The university bought the house in 2008 and used it as an employee rental home. They renamed it the Cyr House.
When Cyr learned of the university’s plan to turn the home into a green space, he knew he had to buy it.
“It’s sad because in today’s economy people just throw away stuff, discard stuff that can be reused,” Cyr said. “I am a builder. I know the quality of the house and just to have it thrown away, demolished — I hated to see that happen.”