John Cancelarich Credit: Melissa Lizotte / The Star Herald

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Longtime Presque Isle resident John Cancelarich, who consistently gave to the disadvantaged and was a prominent figure in the agriculture industry, left a strong legacy to the people of Aroostook County.

Cancelarich died March 7 at the age of 91 at his home in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania.

John Cancelarich meant many things to the Aroostook County community. He donated his time and resources to aid those who needed a boost and helped several growers throughout The County jump start their businesses or bring them back from bankruptcy. He was an advocate for peace, taking part in many anti-war campaigns, and was a champion for education. While he may have been born in New York, Cancelarich called Aroostook County his home for approximately 60 years.

Cancelarich graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1947, and went on to graduate from New York University with a degree in chemical engineering, receiving his master’s degree from Columbia University.

After completing his education, Cancelarich became a shift supervisor in a biological weapons plant in Europe.

He moved to Presque Isle with his family in 1962, where he became involved in the potato scene. He helped the Colby Starch Plant reorganize after bankruptcy and invested in Northland Frozen Foods in Fort Kent, among other ventures.

He taught students overseas in China, Russia, Uganda, Italy, Israel and the West Indies about potato processing for years, and was a consultant for multiple agriculture companies there as well. He traveled overseas to teach 38 times in 25 years.

Due to his work in Aroostook County, Maine state Reps. James Thorne, R-Carmel, and  David McCrea, D-Fort Fairfield, gave Legislative S entiments on Cancelarich’s life at the end of March. Thorne remembered Cancelarich fondly from his childhood, and spoke about his character.

“When someone like John Cancelarich passes away, your mind begins racing about the memories of what he was to the community,” Thorne said. “He was a significant role model and mentor to the younger people, and set a strong example.”

Thorne said he wanted to emulate Cancelarich’s sense of public service to the community. Even though Thorne and Cancelarich held opposing views on different topics, Thorne still respected Cancelarich’s views.

David McCrea, who introduced the Legislative Sentiment in honor of John Cancelarich, passed in some of the same circles as Cancelarich as a fellow Democrat, but didn’t really speak with him until McCrea was campaigning in 2016.

“Once in a while there are people whose paths intersect with ours, however briefly, that we do not realize their impact, accomplishments, productivity and what an overall amazing person they were until we read their obituary. John Cancelarich was such a person.  For these reasons, I felt compelled to submit a Legislative Sentiment in his memory on March 29, 2022.”

Stella Carlstrom of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Presque Isle, remembers Cancelarich fondly for his generosity and love for the community. He gave money to people who needed it and volunteered to help in church programs and projects, making sure people had the necessities.

Cancelarich’s door was always open to people who needed a place to stay, and he donated food from his garden to local establishments, Carlstrom said. Beyond his generosity, Cancelarich was also known for his character.

“You always had a good time around John,” Carlstrom said. “He was an extremely intelligent man. He called everybody ‘kid’ and he was always the first in line for food. He liked to take people out for dinner and it was always at least a five-course meal.”

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David DiMinno

David grew up in New York, and moved to Maine to study political science at the University of Maine. In his spare time, he loves hiking, playing tennis and skiing.