ASHLAND — More than 100 people crowded into the Louise M. Rushinal farmhouse Tuesday to pay final respects to a woman who raised 35 children for the state in addition to 10 of her own.
Ray Beaulier, chairman of the Ashland Town Council and a former police chief, said Rushinal was a “legend in the community.” The woman, who seldom left home and never socialized in the community, was 80 years old when she died.
“Whenever we had any young people in trouble or in need, Louise always would open her house in an emergency situation,” Beaulier said. “She was always there. I never knew her to turn away anyone who sought refuge or say a hard word about anyone.”
She was remembered Tuesday by those who came to her early in life and who later returned with families during crises in their own homes. Others went to the Rushinal home because of its warmth and the generosity of its occupants.
“Her door was open to people with problems,” said the Rev. Donald Morton Sr. of the Masardis Pentecostal Church. In the eulogy at the funeral, Morton said Rushinal exhibited biblical virtues of motherhood and that her front door was the door of hope for those needing shelter.
“She used to say `I raised 45 children and half of Ashland,”‘ said her nephew, Robert Learnard of Van Buren.
Rushinal was a referee for conflicts between the children and made rules that suited her purposes, according to family members. Fights were settled with a “time-out” during which children were seated in a chair or by removal of the ball or toy that caused the fight. When hostilities ended, the toys were returned.
“She would tell us to sit in a chair for two hours,” said her son, Ronald Rushinal, a heavy equipment mechanic for the Maine Department of Transportation in Ashland, and owner of the family farm.
“But you could talk her out of it. In a few minutes we would be out the door playing,” Rushinal said. “You could talk her out of most anything. Sometimes we pressed our luck and were sent back to the chair. It was fun having all the kids here.”
The kitchen was her territory and on “cooking days” the children were ordered outside while pastries, doughnuts and other goodies were prepared.
The children were assigned chores, such as carrying water from the well and helping with the animals, garden and housework.
It was not until 1989 that the farmhouse had running water and a bathroom. In June a wringer-type washer was replaced with a modern washing machine. A gas dryer was in use for several years.
Rushinal was remembered as a serious woman who concentrated on the needs of the extended family. She decorated her house with porcelain plates and other collectibles.
Many of the children placed with the Rushinals by state authorities stayed beyond the age when their board was paid. On one occasion, Mrs. Rushinal was advised not to take a young girl who had speech problems and was emotionally out of control, Ronald Rushinal said. The girl was accepted, however, and the farmhouse became her home for 27 years. His mother was rewarded many times over with the loving care administered by the woman during her last illness, he said.
Hazel McHatten of the Aroostook County Action Program remembered Louise Rushinal as a “very affectionate person and very loving to the children.” McHatten assisted Rushinal with paperwork for government programs that enabled her to remain in her home until she died there.
An extra place was always set at the table, said Nancy Farris, a longtime town manager and neighbor of the Rushinals. She described Louise Rushinal as an open-minded person who stood up for her beliefs.
Lois Walker, administrative assistant to the guidance director at Ashland Community High School, said Rushinal had a “very good manner with children.” The children raised by the Rushinals were well behaved and didn’t cause problems in school, she said.
Her husband has lived in a nursing home in Eagle Lake for about 10 years. The children remembered him teasing and playing with them and creating wooden toys after his farm and woods work was done.