FORT KENT, Maine -– The soccer field at University of Maine at Fort Kent will bear the name of a beloved community figure who died June 30.
Michael Isaac Simon came from New York to Fort Kent nearly 40 years ago to attend UMFK and never left. The field, formerly known as Alumni Memorial Field, will be named Michael Simon Field.
Simon, who was 63 when he died due to complications from a heart attack, had lived in a basement apartment at the Northern Door Inn motel since 1983 when he moved to Fort Kent to take classes. He frequented university soccer games and practices, the campus and town libraries, and local restaurants.
Simon’s family is donating money in his memory for new lights at the university soccer field in recognition of his unique connection to the community he made home. The family has supported the university in other ways throughout the years as well, as a way to thank the community that embraced Simon.
“My family is and has been deeply grateful to Fort Kent. Our support for UMFK is a token of that appreciation,” Simon’s brother Jamil said.
Jamil Simon said he doesn’t know why his brother chose to attend the university all those years ago, but he had a fascination with Maine since his childhood — although the family never visited it before he started school there.
He said the family has always been supportive of Simon’s decision to make his life in the small northern Maine town, and he would visit Simon from New York three times a year, staying at the inn that housed his brother’s apartment.
“Fort Kent was so good for Mike,” Jamil Simon said. “He could walk almost everywhere, and he so much liked the town and the people.”
In his brother’s obituary, Jamil Simon quoted him as saying, “I love my apartment and my town and would rather be here than anywhere else in the world.”
The soccer lights are not the first donation the Simon family has made to the university.
The family donated substantial funding to support the construction of Nadeau Hall, which was named after a family who lived near the hotel and became close to Mike Simon.
Simon was especially fond of petting the Nadeau family’s golden retriever, Portia. Jamil Simon said his brother loved dogs, and felt they were close to God.
“He wasn’t easily touched or hugged but could communicate physically with a dog,” Jamil Simon said.
The Simon family also established the Michael Simon Scholarship Fund in 2010, and last year provided money to 15 university students. They were chosen based on the need to bring their debt to the university below the threshold that would bar them from registering, even if they were academically qualified.
The Simon family also mentioned several area residents in the obituary, including Northern Door Inn assistant manager Laurie Michaud and former Fort Kent Police Chief Tom Pelletier.
Michaud would sew buttons on Simon’s pants for him, and she and manager Carl Pelletier and managing owner of Northern Door Inn Paul Bouchard would give him rides to doctor’s visits and other appointments — as did Tom Pelletier.
“He’s definitely going to be missed around here,” Michaud said.
Simon kept up on current events and would talk about them with Tom Pelletier. He also liked to give people recommendations from the menus of the town’s restaurants. He especially liked the baked stuffed salmon at Barry’s Kitchen, the former chief said.
“Michael was a kind and gentle soul,” he said.
Another of Mike Simon’s favorite restaurants was Al’s Dairy Freeze.
Al’s employee of 21 years Derek Desjardin said Simon, an avid Detroit Lions fan, was the go-to in order to find out about sports.
“I used to play Fantasy Football and would ask him who was hurt and who was not. He knew his rosters; he could tell you the third string quarterback of a team. He was a very smart man,” Desjardin said.
While Simon was beloved by the people of Fort Kent, he also took a genuine interest in all those he met.
Al’s employee Sholah Mullins said Simon made it a point to learn everyone’s names at the restaurant, and would ask about former employees too to keep track of them.
Jamil Simon said his brother had once tested at a 135 IQ and had a tremendous grasp on the organization of the outside world.
“He would remember everybody’s name and remember details of their lives even if he hadn’t seen them for many years and remembered lots of details about their family,” Jamil Simon said.”It was very, very touching really.”
JoAnne O’Leary met Mike Simon in 1990 when she worked as a waitress at China Garden and her husband Kelly O’Leary was a student at the university. The O’Learys became friends with Simon and went on to have three children, all of whom Simon met.
Although they had not seen one another for 10 years, Mike ran into the O’Leary family at a local gas station a few months ago and never forgot the now grown O’Leary children’s names. .
“Mike talked with both girls and was so happy to hear they were both going to college to become nurses,” JoAnne O’Leary said. “Mike was an amazing man with the biggest character. I will think of Mike every time I see the soccer field at UMFK lit up and be reminded of how Mike lit up all five of our O’Leary hearts.”