A SALUTE TO ROGER
Friends mourn Woonsocket business owner, veterans group leader Roger E. Petit
WOONSOCKET – Every so often you come across someone who you can describe as a Woonsocketer through and through, someone just like Roger E. Petit.
Petit died last week at the age of 83, but his impact on his native city will not soon be forgotten.
He was a longtime member of local veterans organizations but also made his mark as a city businessman, running the family’s Petit’s Market at 571 Cumberland Hill Road after taking over from his parents, and later working for Almacs Supermarkets after selling the family business.
He also was involved in a number of city civic organizations such as the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and was a longtime volunteer for the Woonsocket Senior Center, The Stadium Theatre and the Museum of Work & Culture.
You most likely saw him in the veterans’ division of the city’s Autumnfest Parade, a opportunity to promote local veterans organizations and service to the country Petit wouldn’t miss.
As Eugene Peloquin, a fellow veteran and longtime friend of Petit, put it this week, “he was a giant of a man, no ifs and buts about it.”
Petit was involved in so many organizations, it could be hard at times to figure out which one he was representing when you saw him somewhere.
“He had a great heart and he helped so
many people through so many different organizations,” Peloquin said.
There were the Veterans Day programs he would help to organize at the Museum of Work & Culture each year, the Memorial Day Veterans Masses he helped put on at his parish, St. Joseph Church on Mendon Road, all the special events like the city’s 50th Anniversary Celebration for World War II veterans in 1994, or the effort he took on in 1999 with the late Sen. Alphonse Auclair, a U.S. Marine veteran of the Pacific, to provide Woonsocket High School diplomas to 150 World War II veterans who missed the chance to earn one during the war years.
He also took personal pride in making sure all the veterans in Resurrection Cemetery off West Wrentham Road had a flag on their grave for Memorial Day, along with many other efforts to honor his veteran peers.
“He was so active,” Peloquin said while running through many of Petit’s contributions.
Petit had attended St. Ann’s School off Cumberland Street and then Le Petit College, a prep school of sorts run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart on Hamlet Avenue, before he went to high school at Mount St. Charles Academy, Peloquin said.
He worked in the family store established by his father, Andidas, and his mother, Germaine, as he grew up and before heading off to the serve with the U.S. Army in Korea in 1954 with the Korea Military Advisory Group.
He came home and returned to work in the family business, working as a meat cutter and also helping his mother to make her Woonsocket-famous Mrs. Petit’s Baked Beans.
In those days customers would put in their orders for a bean pot of baked beans and then pick them up at the Cumberland Hill Road store when the long cooking process was completed. The Petit family would eventually sell the store to Roger Lapierre of Li’l General Convenience Stores, but Petit continued to work, making his family recipe for the beans until selling its recipe to Lapierre as well, Peloquin noted.
Among his many veterans projects, Peloquin said Petit joined him and a number of city veterans and home front family members for an elementary school veterans projects in Norwich, Conn., with Pat Ferron.
The students in Norwich interviewed the veterans like Petit and created a biography that was included along with their military stories in the published book.
More recently, Petit, Peloquin, and Sen. Auclair’s wife Jacqueline, who had lost her brother Maurice Gauthier to the fighting in Europe, were only local participants in the project still living, Peloquin noted.
Jackie Auclair recalled this week that she would always run into Petit at any veterans function taking place in the city. He had belonged to the St. Joseph’s Veterans Association and was a past commander and also served as a past president of the United Veterans Council of Woonsocket, for which he was currently the treasurer, she noted.
“He was always at everything and he was a veterans veteran,” Auclair said. “A lot of people would call him for help and information and he is going to be missed,” Auclair said.
Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt also pointed to Petit’s many contributions to his city while also offering that he is sure to be missed.
“It was certainly sad news to hear and unexpected news,” Baldelli-Hunt said. “It just saddened me and I’m sure it saddens the whole community,” she said.
“This was a man who no matter what he was involved in, he did it wholeheartedly,” Baldelli-Hunt said.
In addition to his many hats with the veterans, Petit was also an active volunteer for the Stadium Theatre Foundation, and BaldelliHunt recalled often seeing the senior out in front of the building “changing the letters on the Stadium marquee.”
After she became mayor, Baldelli-Hunt said there hasn’t been a veterans event held in past four years that Petit did not attend. “He always played a significant role in any event and he was so proud of the military,” she said. He also had a deep and smooth baritone voice that you would always immediately recognize as Petit’s, Baldelli-Hunt noted.
“He was just one of those people that you don’t find many like him – he was a just a real gem, a real gem,” she said.
Ernest Frappier, a past president of the United Veterans Council of Woonsocket who had worked with Petit on many veterans’ projects call him “a good guy who was always friendly and always willing to help.”
Petit, of course loved veterans events and in particular participating with his peers in the Autumnfest Parade. “He would hand out flag buttons to people as he went by,” Frappier said.
He was among the active veterans in the city and was always willing to make a trip outside the city to represent veterans groups at a special function, he noted. “He was always promoting something for the veterans,” Frappier said while noting Petit also did fundraising work and special projects for the various veterans groups in the city.
He was a past commander of Veteran of Foreign Wars Post 11519 in Woonsocket and more recently had become a member of the the Disabled Veterans of America when he turned 80 as is allowed by the organization.
The city’s veterans agent, Ernest Boisvert, described Petit as a “very dedicated guy” who always willing to help. “He was very active and he was someone that could be counted on,” he said.
He too remembered Petit’s love for the Autumnfest Parade and described how he had invited him to ride its route in his Corvette two years ago. “Roger couldn’t get his knees under the dash because his 6 foot, 4 inch tall frame didn’t fit,” Boisvert recalled.
Representatives of the city’s veterans organizations will be going to Petit’s wake at the Fournier & Fournier Funeral Home at 463 South Main St., on Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. His commitment ceremony with military honors will be held on Friday at 10 a.m. In the chapel of St. Jean Baptiste Cemetery, Wrentham Road, Bellingham.
Roger E. Petit, center, who was an unwavering fixture at Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies in Woonsocket throughout his life, salutes during this past Veterans Day’s ceremony at the Museum of Work and Culture on Nov. 11. He died on Nov. 28 after a brief illness, at age 83.
Petit was a U.S. Army veteran of the Korean War who was active in organizing city veterans events for many years, and was a volunteer for other causes as well.
Roger Petit, at right, could often be seen directing crowds outside the Stadium Theatre, where he was a volunteer for many years.