December 17, 2011

Son remembers Fred Boucher as philanthropist, man of faith

Longtime local businessman died Thursday at age 88

BY BEN McCANNA, Staff Writer

OAKLAND -- Don Boucher said his father's faith in God was strong.

click image to enlarge

FRED'S FOUNDER: Joseph Alfred "Fred" Boucher, who started Fred's Vending and other local businesses, died Thursday from an infection related to gall bladder failure. He was 88.

Staff photo by David Leaming

"He always said, 'You're here on earth for the blink of an eye. You're with Jesus for an eternity,'" Boucher recalled. "He always told me to strive to get to heaven and do things on earth to get into heaven."

Joseph Alfred "Fred" Boucher died Thursday from an infection related to gall bladder failure. He was 88.

Don Boucher said his father will be remembered as a man of deep faith, a philanthropist and a determined businessman.

In 1951, Fred Boucher parlayed $300 into a fledgling business when he bought 15 peanut vending machines and set them up at Waterville-area gas stations.

From that humble beginning, Fred Boucher's investment eventually grew into three Oakland-based companies -- Fred's Coffee, Fred's Vending and Fred's Beverage -- which now provide products and services to more than 5,000 locations throughout Maine and parts of New Hampshire.

Fred Boucher was an entrepreneur from a young age, according to "Company Secrets," a collection of essays on Maine businesses by Alice Hellstrom Anderson. At fourteen, Boucher created and managed a newspaper paper delivery service in Fairfield. In 1942, after graduating from Lawrence High School, Boucher took a job at the Morning Sentinel.

Boucher joined the U.S. Army during World War II. He was captured by German soldiers and held in prisoner camps for 26 months, Anderson wrote. After the war, Boucher returned to the Sentinel, where he hatched he idea for the vending business that would eventually become a Maine institution.

Building the business was hard work, said Boucher's son. Don Boucher now owns all three companies. He began working for his father in 1973 at age 15.

His boss was demanding but fair, said Don Boucher, who is now 56.

"He was very tough on me, but it was a tough love," he said. "I loved my father to death. He was my best friend."

While Don Boucher was a student at Waterville High School, the elder Boucher kept his son busy. Fred Boucher furnished his young employee with a Chevy Biscayne and a two-way radio. The trunk was always stocked with tools and merchandise.

"He'd have me load it up before school, then he'd get a hold of me at school," Don Boucher said. "He would ask me to go repair machines or fill machines between classes, then run back to class.

"I missed quite a bit of class. I wasn't much of a student, but I was for my father. He was my teacher."

While his four siblings went to college, Don Boucher continued to work for his father. He said his father's commitment to his customers was all encompassing.

"He believed in customer service, and there was no end to customer service. I was up all hours of the night back then. The mills were open all hours. We had the company phone ringing at the house, and I was the guy that would go. There used to be a button on the phone and I'd sneak up and turn off the ringer. When he found out I did it, he removed the button," Don Boucher said with a laugh.

Don Boucher lived with his parents until he was 26. The next year, Fred Boucher served as best man at his son's wedding.

Even after moving out, the father-and-son team spent a lot of time together.

"Every Saturday for 20 or 25 years, we drove around the state to visit customers. We just became the very best friends," Don Boucher said.

Later in life, Fred Boucher took an interest in philanthropy. He contributed to MaineGeneral Medical Center, Thomas College, Good Will-Hinckley School for Boys and Girls and many more.

In particular, Fred Boucher became a major contributor to Mount Merici Academy. Between 1997 and 2008, Boucher donated $870,000 to the private Catholic school, said Principal Sue Cote.

"He was a faith-filled man," she said. "He felt that God gave him the resources to give to others. It wasn't of himself. It was of God.

"He told me that many times."

Don Boucher said his father's philanthropy was innate.

"He always believed that if you had any success, you should always remember the community -- the people who gave you your success," he said.

Ben McCanna -- 861-9239

bmccanna@centralmaine.com

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