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February 13, 2023

Cianbro co-founder Ken Cianchette remembered as a 'pragmatic doer'

An inventor and mechanical genius who co-founded one of Maine's best-known and successful construction firms has died at the age of 98.

Kenneth "Ken" Cianchette passed away on Feb. 7, at the home of his daughter Jean and her husband Bill Bradshaw in Yarmouth, according to published reports.

Judging from the young age at which he began building bridges and his education, it was no surprise Cianchette made his career in the building trades. He grew up on the edge of the Maine Central Institute campus, from where he graduated at age 17 and was inducted into its hall of fame in 1989.

After graduating from MCI, Cianchette worked on bridge construction with his father until he was drafted at age 18 into the Army, where he was tested and rated as a mechanical genius.

Ken Cianchette and his brothers Carl and Bud incorporated as Cianchette Bros. Inc. in 1949. Cianchette, a passionate pilot and inventor, died Feb. 7.

Cianchette went to work with his brother Carl after returning to Maine in 1946. Along with their brother, Bud, the siblings incorporated as Cianchette Bros., Inc. in 1949. Another brother, Chuck, later joined them.

In 1953, he formed Ken Cianchette Inc., focusing on sewer and water projects, bridges and buildings, and then returned to Cianchette Bros (later Cianbro Corp.) in 1961.

Not long after, Cianchette invented and patented the Chinbro pipe grab and beam clamp, which made it easier to do the jobs for which he and his brothers were hired. The inventions resulted in the formation of Chinbro Manufacturing, Inc., and today these tools are used in construction worldwide.

"Creating, inventing, building and improving are action verbs that appealed to Ken, a deep thinker and pragmatic 'doer' always," his obituary published by Legacy noted.

In the '70s Cianchette invented a giant peat moss harvesting machine nicknamed Martian Bigfoot that harvested peat from bogs in Downeast Maine.  At the property he owned in the '60s and '70s on Lake Winnecook in Unity, he built a party barge using recovered airplane pontoons and a wooden platform, and a unique steel tippy tower for the children in his family.

"Whether it was heavy machinery, a child's parade float or a Husky mascot costume, if he could dream it, Ken could build it," his obituary noted. 

While bussing tables in Hollywood, Fla. in 1947, Cianchette used the GI Bill to become a private pilot, a passion that continued his entire adult life and which he shared with his brother Chuck. He was known as Maine's "Red Baron" after his friend Hap Mathews helped him build a replica of a Fokker DR1 Triplane in which Cianchette performed aerobatic stunts on weekends at the Owl's Head Transportation Museum. On his 90th birthday, he flew his 1985 Cessna 185 to his birthday party and was presented a plaque by the FAA for 50 years of Dedicated Service in Aviation Safety.

Cianchette, who in 1949 married the late Nina "Evie" Cianchette, nee Lancaster, lived in Pittsfield for almost 80 years and served on the town council, the planning board, the Industrial Park Board and the SAD 53 School Board. The father of five also served on the Unity College Board of Trustees for 24 years and was awarded an honorary doctorate degree and later had a dormitory named after him.

Cianchette served on the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission in the 1970s and chaired an advisory council for the ME Department of Commerce & Industry. He also served as president of the Associated General Contractors of Maine along with various other boards and committees.

A Celebration of Life will be held in Falmouth in the summer. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Maine Central Institute, Office of Advancement, 295 Main St., Pittsfield, ME 04967 or here.

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