Alfred J. Lebel, Founder of Maine Heritage Weavers (1929-2013)
Alfred J. Lebel ("Fred") was born in Lewiston, Maine on March 5, 1929. He attended Lewiston schools and graduated from Lewiston High School. During his high school years, he worked at the Continental Mill in Lewiston where he began his long involvement making the finest bedspreads in the world.
He attended Bates College for a year and a half before enlisting in the Army a few years after World War II. He returned to his native Lewiston after completing his military commitment and married Theresa Larochelle on October 20th, 1951. They became the parents of three girls: Lee, Linda and Lisa.
Upon returning from the military, Fred once again went to work at the Continental Mill for his father. On his own, he chose to attend the Cotton Grading School in North Carolina and soon qualified to be a government cotton classifier. He returned to Maine and again worked at the Continental Mill for nine years until it ceased operations in 1961.
After the Continental Mill closed, Fred went to work at Bates Manufacturing in the Industrial Engineering Department. It was not long, only three years, before he was named Plant Manager in 1964, a position he held for 20 years. In 1984, he went to work for Guilford Manufacturing in Central Maine and then returned to Bates one year later to work as Vice President. Subsequently, a pair of Chinese businessmen purchased the mill. These owners left within a couple of years taking with them some of the better equipment. Fred joined Jack Cahill to try and keep the mill operating using a substantial amount of his own capital in an attempt to do so.
In 1999, the City of Lewiston took over the mills buildings for taxes owed and because of a contract requiring the City to produce the necessary steam to heat the facility. Subsequently, local businessmen Kevin Dean and Emile Clavett purchased the mill and later sold the assets to a company by the name of Faribault. During that period, Alfred continued to operate the Bates Mill Store, which he owned.
In 2002, Fred and his daughter, Linda, purchased two looms from Biddeford Textiles and started Maine Heritage Weavers, Inc. in the Hill Mill in Lewiston. The company has grown steadily for the past ten years, and Fred was able to see his dream of rebuilding Bates in 2012 when he re-acquired the famous Bates trademark.
Just 9 months before Fred's passing in October 2013, the company purchased the former Dumont building in Monmouth, Maine. He was able to use his decades of experience to set up the production line he had always dreamed of in the new building. Today, his daughter, Linda Cloutier, proudly continues his legacy by leading and growing the company alongside the next generation and the team that Fred was so proud of.