Friends mourn Woonsocket busi­ness owner, vet­er­ans group leader Roger E. Petit

Woonsocket Call - - Front Page - By JOSEPH B. NADEAU jnadeau@woonsock­et­call.com

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.

Photo by Ernest A. Brown

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...

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.

File photo by Ernest A. Brown

Roger Petit, at right, could of­ten be seen di­rect­ing crowds out­side the Sta­dium Theatre, where he was a vol­un­teer for many years.

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