2013-02-15 / People


Former resident spreads roots in Biddeford
By Kristy Wagner
Staff Writer

Aurelie Wallach Aurelie Wallach Aurelie Wallach has always had a passion for historical buildings. As chairman of Biddeford’s Historic Preservation Commission, Wallach has many opportunities to become involved with the historical buildings that grace the downtown streets of the city.

“I have always been interested in adaptive reuse of old buildings – ever since I was a child,” Wallach said. “I would go out with my father and he would see an abandoned house and we would get out of the car and walk through it and he would point out different construction intricacies.”

Wallach’s father was a builder and a selftaught mason.

Wallach moved to Biddeford from South Portland 12 years ago. Before she lived in South Portland Wallach lived in Bangor and Boston. She was born in New Hampshire, but her father’s side of the family had planted roots in Dover-Foxcroft and Atkinson in the 1880s.

“We always said we wanted to raise our children in Maine,” Wallach said, adding she and her husband, John, had three children together and raised them in South Portland.

Wallach spent a lot of her time contributing to Holy Cross School in South Portland, where her children attended.

An art history major with a minor in history, Wallach began her studies at Boston University and later finished her degree at the University of Southern Maine.

“I got a wonderful education there,” Wallach said.

While in Massachusetts, Wallach worked at Boston University for 11 years.

“I worked for Howard Zinn in the government department. I was an administrative assistant,” Wallach said.

Zinn is a well-known academic historian, author and social activist. He used to be a political science professor at Boston University. Zinn has written books such as “The People’s History of the United States,” which was a national bestseller.

Wallach was working as the office manager of the biological sciences department at Boston University when her husband graduated law school and the couple moved to Maine.

In addition to being a scholar of history, Wallach was part of history. Wallach was a Massachusetts Freedom Rider in the 1960s and marched on Washington to promote civil rights for black Americans.

“I used to go to schools and talk about that. Last week I Skyped with the school my son teaches at and I told my story and they asked me questions,” Wallach said.

Wallach is very active in the Biddeford community and her work and efforts have not gone unrecognized. In October, Heart of Biddeford presented Wallach with a “Community Member of the Year” award.

“I help out a lot with Heart of Biddeford if they have questions about historic preservation. I help with little things here and there,” Wallach said.

Her phone often rings with questions from local reporters and others with questions about the commission, historic preservation or specific buildings in the city.

Wallach also does social justice work at the Good Shephard Parish in Biddeford.

“Social justice is mainly dealing with people who are underprivileged and educating people about the plight of the underprivileged,” Wallach said.

Most recently, Wallach lent her collection of vintage Valentines to be displayed at McArthur Public Library.

“I saw that case there and the collection is very nice, but always seems to be the same,” Wallach said. “So I asked (Library Director Jeff Cabral) if he would like my Valentine collection in there.”

She added that her brother showcased her collection of vintage Valentines once at the Ipswich Public Library in Massachusetts.

“My idea is that eventually other people will come forward with other small collections and then maybe they would have revolving collections to bring more people into the library,” Wallach said.

Wallach, who lives in Biddeford Pool, said she tries to promote Biddeford’s downtown as often as she can.

“Living out here is different than living in town. I try to bring the two together. We belong to the Fortunes Rocks Association in the Biddeford Pool community and every summer I try to bring them downtown for some event and to eat out. A lot of people are surprised to see what’s available in downtown Biddeford,” Wallach said.

As chairman of the historical preservation commission, Wallach was on the Master Plan Committee for the mill district. She hopes a proposed ordinance will change the commission’s status from advisory to mandatory.

“Anyone who wants to make changes to their fa├žade or sign has to come before our commission even though it is advisory; we talk it over and give them ideas,” Wallach said.

If the commission becomes mandatory, Wallach said there would be more opportunities to save more buildings.

“I do care. There is more (historic preservation) to do here because things are on the cusp. There wasn’t all that much appreciation for historic buildings when I started, but I think we are gaining some momentum,” Wallach said.

About Neighbors

Neighbors is a weekly profile that features a community member from South Portland or Cape Elizabeth. Know someone you would like to see featured in the Sentry? Contact Jack Flagler at news@inthesentry.com.

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