John Cancelarich was born in New York City on April 8, 1930. His parents were from Austria- Hungary. His father was an asbestos worker, a Republican, and an ardent union supporter. He had one younger sister (a school teacher in Westwood, NJ). He was raised in NYC and attended Stuyvesant High School and NYU College of Engineering (Bachelors and Masters). He worked for American Cyanamide Company (a pharmaceutical industry) and was drafted and sent to Fort Dix, and then to Fort McLellan, Alabama for chemical school, then sent to Pine Bluff, Arkansas where he worked in biological warfare and met his wife, Johnny. He then worked for Vahlsing, Inc. in Easton, Maine, running a potato processing plant. He and his wife have four children, two of whom still live in Maine.
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Nicoll, Don, "Cancelarich, John oral history interview" (1998). Edmund S. Muskie Oral History Collection. 68.