BETHEL – Milton Simon knew he would be receiving the Maine Recreation and Park Association’s Citizen Volunteer of the Year award on Thursday night at The Bethel Inn.
What the Durham resident didn’t know, and what surprised him the most, was that five musicians from his Auburn Community Band showed up unannounced to share in the joy.
“I knew I was getting this, otherwise I wouldn’t be here tonight, but, I had no idea that some members of the band would be here,” said Simon, who created and leads the band that has been presenting free concerts to the Lewiston-Auburn area for nearly 25 years.
“That means as much to me as getting the award,” he said of musicians Brian Hodges of Turner, Sonny Begin of Minot, Barbara Jabaut of Durham, and Gail Phoenix and Denise Stewart, both of Auburn.
“They drove an hour to be here for this, and have to work tomorrow. That was the best compliment, to see the band here, and to share it with them,” Simon added.
A volunteer firefighter lieutenant with the Durham Fire Department, Simon sat with the musicians during the banquet, then watched association President Doug Beck of Auburn share Simon’s exploits with about 100 people seated in side-by-side rooms.
Beck, who also is Auburn’s recreation superintendent, said he nominated Simon two years ago for the Volunteer of the Year award for his quarter-century of Auburn volunteerism.
Simon, Beck said, first started the Auburn Youth Band, an eight-week summer youth program to give students in grades 6 through 12 an opportunity to continue playing the instruments they’d been learning during the prior school year.
In its first season in 1978, the band had 40 participants. By its fifth and final season in 1982, there were 125 participants.
During that time, Simon assembled a second group, which became known as Young Sounds. It consisted of 17 high school and college students living in Central Maine.
In the fall of 1981, Simon formed the Auburn Community Band, which was mostly comprised of parents of youngsters in the school band. In January 1982, the band grew to 25 musicians, who presented their first concert in downtown Auburn during the summer of 1982 to an audience of 40 people, Beck said.
Today, the organization has 55 members, ages 12 to 80, and represents 15 central and southern Maine communities. Their free, weekly outdoor summer performances every Wednesday, weather permitting, attract 500 to 1,000 people.
This summer is the band’s 25th anniversary, Beck said.
“Twenty-five years is a long time. For all of us, time goes by, but when I hear someone else acknowledge something I do every Wednesday night, to hear several people reflect on that, that’s kind of overwhelming to hear. It’s pretty awesome to have someone reflect back on it,” Simon said.
Beck also read three letters from band members that induced members of the association’s Awards’ Committee to pick Simon for this year’s honor. They were Hodges, Elliot Epstein and Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce President Charles “Chip” Morrison.
The writers painted a glowing portrait, praising Simon, his dedication, hard work, and perseverance.
Simon, who is a musician and motivational speaker, just finished his 19th year as a ski instructor for Sunday River Ski Resort. He said his day job is director of training and development for Atlantic Regional Federal Credit Union in Brunswick.
For the past 16 years, he said, he has been chairman of the Durham Eureka Community Center, and working to renovate the former Grange hall.
“The best part of the evening was hearing the well-written letters from three long-time members of the band. That meant a lot,” Simon added.