FORT KENT, Maine — Hundreds came out on Friday night dressed in community colors and cheered as newly donated lights illuminated the University of Maine at Fort Kent’s first-ever night game.
The field was also named after Michael Simon, a beloved community member and alumni who moved up to Fort Kent from New York 40 years ago.
Simon died last year of complications following a heart attack. Since his death, Simon’s family has donated a total of $500,000 to the University of Maine at Fort Kent Foundation.
It is the largest donation the foundation has received from a single family.
Much of the money was used to renovate the soccer field. It paid for lights and a new scoreboard, which displays the name “Michael Simon Field.”
The lights will give the school’s athletes more time to practice. UMFK Athletic Director Carly Flowers said the northern campus’ limited daylight hours can limit the players in terms of scheduling both games and practices.
Donations also helped establish the Michael Simon Scholarship fund. The current market value of this fund is now $350,000. Last year, the scholarship program helped 22 students.
In addition to $500,000 going to UMFK, the Simon family donated $100,000 to the Northern Maine Medical Center, also in Fort Kent.
Community members packed around the field during homecoming as Fort Kent Community High School’s boys and girls soccer teams played against Washington Academy. It was the first night game ever played on the school’s soccer field.
The event also featured food trucks, inflatable obstacle courses and bounce houses. The wide variety of activities reflected the family’s wishes that the lights and field be enjoyed by the entire community.
Michael’s brother Jamil Simon, who flew in from New York to attend, said Michael truly appreciated the relationships and friendships he made during his time in Fort Kent.
“He would be delighted, and he might have been a little shy, about having his name up there,” Jamil said. “Michael deserves a big honor and a big recognition.”
He said his family has a history of supporting education, and that they are delighted to support a university that was critical to the town that Michael loved so much.
UMFK President Deb Hedeen said that while she did not personally know Michael, he was well-known by almost everyone in the community.
“Michael Simon had certainly made an impression on many people, both at this university and in the community,” she said. “Everybody has a story to tell about Michael from their interactions with him. He loved UMFK and he loved living in Fort Kent. And this is just the best way to honor him and his memory.”
Hedeen said it was an exciting evening for the university and town.
“The soccer field has never had lights, which makes it difficult for the soccer teams to practice beyond when it gets dark,” she said. “That’s going to make a huge difference for our student athletes. The other part of this really important gift to the university is scholarships. The scholarships will assist students with their tuition and books, therefore making it possible for them to attend the university.”
Jamil said his brother Michael was always drawn to Maine, although he never vacationed there as a child.
“He was fascinated with Mt. Katahdin, and with the east coast,” Jamil said. He always wanted to stay within some boundary, but at the edge of it. And Fort Kent is definitely the edge. It was a place that was right for him.”
Michael did not drive or cook at home. He walked everywhere he needed to go and ate at restaurants.
Jamil said that, as a child, his brother tested with a 135 IQ. He said Michael was brilliant, but also neurodiverse.
“He was institutionalized as growing up, probably wrongly, by my parents,” Jamil said. “And for him to have found a home like he did was a profound kind of grace.”
Jamil said he hopes the donation will keep his brother’s memory alive for years to come.
“There’s a little bit of an eternal flame here,” he said. “We hope it’s going to last a long time. We hope to leave a light both on the field and contribute to the light of Fort Kent and northern Maine.”