Celebrating Fifty-Four Years Of Service With Larry Simino
By Cookie Steponaitis
Larry Simino was raised just fourteen miles from the Canadian border in Irasburg and grew up with and was very close to his brother, Darrell. The family lived on a ninety-three-acre farm situated in the village with twenty-five milking cows and a lot of life lessons. His mother served on the school board and select board, and helping others out of choice was a part of the fabric of their life. “I am the oldest,” he chuckled. “He is two years, two months and three days younger than me, but who is counting.” Growing up in a small rural Vermont town, Simino watched and learned how groups of people could come together to work out a solution or could dig in their heels and cause dissension. Neither lesson was lost on Simino as he moved on in his life.
Attending the University of Vermont majoring in agricultural economics, a professor inadvertently set Simino in a new direction and career path. It was Simino’s sophomore year at college and the family farm was being sold, so there was no great immediate need to return home for the summer. His professor called him in after class and said there was a summer position at the Weeks School in Vergennes that he wanted Simino to apply for. “I remember asking him what is Weeks School?” smiled Simino. “I told him I really wasn’t interested, but he insisted I at least go down for an interview. “That interview with local Bill Pollender and Assistant Superintendent Charlie Adams was the beginning of a summer job that put me working on the farm supervising the students. It included a dairy operation, the huge poultry operation, piggery and everything involved in an agricultural program. At that time we produced all of the eggs, beef, pork, chicken and fresh vegetables needed for the 150 or so students who attended Weeks School.” Pausing for a moment Simino recollected, “At that time, I was only a few months to one year older than many of the students there.” The success of that summer job led to weekend work his entire college career and upon graduation from UVM the offer of a permanent position.
While it was not the original course Simino set out on, it put in motion key developments in his life, including meeting his partner for life Connie Irish Simino and introduction to the Lions Club, a civic organization that continues with a passion for serving others. Connie Irish was a social worker assigned to monitor the students who were sent by the courts to the Weeks School in Vergennes. Originally, when a student was sent to Weeks School by the courts, they were no longer under the supervision of the Department of Social Services, but were under the Department of Corrections. When those students went back to the community, Corrections had a woman supervising the girls and a man supervising the boys. “What’s that guy’s name?” Connie would constantly ask her colleagues. Turns out, that guy’s name was Larry Simino and the two met in person in 1969, after a law changed in1968 that stated the students would remain in the custody of the Department of Social Services, and Connie was the worker assigned to Weeks School to provide coordination between the two departments. The couple married in 1970 and has called the Champlain Valley home since. They purchased a camp on the lake in Addison in 1973, and had a home in Ferrisburgh from 1977 to 2007, where Connie helped with Girl Scouts and Larry served on the school board for 6 years and on the selectboard for 12. Both were involved with many committees at their church. Now, forty-eight years have come and gone and the family has grown to include two daughters, three grandchildren and their “summer son,” Tim Bahre and his family. Larry continued on at Weeks School and was Assistant Superintendent from 1967 until it closed in 1978. He then was Business Manager for the Juvenile Services Project, developing community based programs for the students previously assigned to Weeks School. In 1980, Larry started a new career with Vermont State Parks where he was Chief of Operations for 18 years and Director of State Parks for 8 years until retirement. However, he continued on diligently in a process of helping others, keeping the focus on local problems and needs.
In the fall of 1964, after Simino had become a full time employee of the Weeks School, store keeper Earl Johnson approached Simino and asked if he wanted to join the Lions Club. “I remember asking Earl what is it?" chuckled Simino. “Anyway, I went to a meeting and joined later at the same time as Albert Gebo and Ed Smith. The Vergennes Lions Club was only about ten years old then, but it was plenty busy.” Now in his 54th year of service through the Lions Club it amazes Simino to see that many people still ask ‘what is it’ when asked about the Lions Club. “Back then it was a group of men who got together every two weeks to have dinner and to plan their work on service projects and to fundraise for programs to meet local needs,” explained Simino. “We held an Annual Bazaar on City Park, funded eye glasses for local people, built ramps for the elderly and supplied college scholarships for graduating seniors.” Rather than fitting a national program to local situations, the Lions Club has always been grassroots in assessing the needs of the community and working to improve the lives of all ages through service. Founded in 1917, by a group of men headed by Melvin Jones, in 1925 the Lions were charged by Helen Keller to be her “Knights for the Blind” and seeing impaired. This set the tone for one of the Lions foundational programs-eye care, glasses and eye health for all people.
The Lions Club opened its doors to women in 1987 and Simino witnessed the base of the group grow and diversify. Always coming home from the meetings in a better mood than when he went, Simino found camaraderie with the Lions and a simple formula for success. Lions do not talk about politics or focus on things that will polarize or distract the group from their charge of serving others and having fun. One position in the organization is called the Tail Twister and his or her job is to keep the meetings light and lively. Originally created to help people forget their worries during the Great Depression years, the entire mission of the Lions is We Serve. “Where there is a need, there’s a Lion,” was the theme of the 2016-17 International President and with 1.4 million Lions around the world, there is little doubt the concept of serving others is growing rather than shrinking.
While serving as the Vergennes Lions Club president in 1972-1973, the group was comprised of twenty-five men who all wore shirts and ties and had an $8,000 budget to bring about change. Serving again as president in 2010-2011, Simino saw membership at about 75, but comprised of men and women and possessing a budget of $30,000 for service projects. Whether as club president, or District Governor (1977-78), Simino has continued to see people coming together with goals of simply serving others. “To those who say they can’t volunteer or don’t have special gifts, I tell you that is simply not true. The Lions Club is comprised of people of all walks of life and all backgrounds who simply believe in working to teach and reach goals of aiding others. Whether it is Chicken Barbeque, Memorial Day activities with the car raffle, Auction, Vergennes Day, programs for ramps for elderly, eye care or college scholarships Lions smile a lot and work hard together.”
Just recently Simino, with other Lions, has been out in the community bringing dictionaries to third grade students in elementary classrooms around the region, and helping to provide eye screening for children in Vermont. Last year, 28,000 school children were screened for vision by visiting Lions Clubs, and if those identified could not get the glasses they needed, Lions stepped in. “Do you have an interest in helping people?” queried Simino. “I promise you it is a feeling that never gets old. You come home feeling good about what you are doing with your time and how it opens up ways to simply help.”
The Valley Voice salutes Larry Simino for his 54th year of service to others in the Vergennes Lions and encourages you to take Simino up on his challenge. If you are interested in the Vergennes Lions reach out to Larry at (802) 759-2448 or the King Lion Debbie Brace at (802) 324-1758, or inquire in your own community to see where and when your Lions Club meets. One thing is for sure, attending a meeting will bring you close to a group of people who have a secret for success well in hand. Meet in friendship, plan together, act purposefully and always remember to have fun. And if perchance you are out and about and see the Vergennes Lions at a local function keep an eye out for Simino. He will have the white and gray hair, but there will be a smile on his face and a quiet determination that has kept him coming back week after week for fifty-four years with no plans of stopping anytime soon. His goal is to help others and serve. When multiplied by the efforts of others, it is contagious and effective. When service is the mission, Lions roar.