April 24, 2020| People
By: Bill Woolley
He doesn’t quite remember how it happened, how he first became a volunteer for the Lake Hopatcong Foundation.
On the morning of a spring day in 2016, however—less than a year after he retired—Ian Simms found himself in an official purple VOLUNTEER T-shirt, standing in the parking lot at Hopatcong State Park, clipboard in hand.
Huddled up with a group of other Block Party volunteers to receive their final instructions, he was readying himself to help usher in a veritable parade of vendors and guests.
Ian took to the Block Party role and has been signing up on an annual basis ever since. He can also be spotted logging volunteer time at LHF’s annual Lake Loop in the fall.
“It’s hectic and frantic and chaotic in the early morning of the Block Party, but it’s always exciting,” said Ian. “All the volunteers find their rhythm and solve a multitude of problems on the fly. At the end of the day, you’re completely exhausted, but completely energized at the same time.”
Ian and his wife, Trudy, have lived in the Devil’s Footprint area of Hopatcong since 1986. They have a cat named Zoey, who graciously allows the couple to live with her.
“She hates us,” said Ian, a self-proclaimed cat person, “but we still love her.”
The 66-year-old attended Lodi High School (“You gotta problem with that?”), took various courses at technical schools, attended professional development conferences, and, at times, acted as his own teacher.
Ian’s educational pursuits were largely in support of a career in designing, developing, and delivering training programs on data communications, computer networks and business software. His employers have included Dow Jones, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies.
“Over the decades of my career, I’ve trained thousands of people and I occasionally run into former students who have thanked me for helping them start or build their own careers,” said Ian, when asked about the most satisfying part of his career.
“It means a lot to me to know that I made a positive difference in some peoples’ lives.”
Even in retirement, Ian indulges his technical and scientific interests, which have included building a mid-sized Tesla coil, a contraption named after Nikola Tesla, a Serbian engineer he holds in very high regard.
For the uninitiated, he explained, “It’s a high-voltage transformer that transmits electrical power wirelessly, makes lightning in my back yard, and frightens my wife … although she’s getting used to it.”
For more conventional entertainment, Ian enjoys reading and visiting the multitude of wineries, with his wife, in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
Although claiming to be “pretty devoid of talent,” he has also gained a small measure of acclaim at post-Block Party gatherings with his soulful rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
It’s his volunteer efforts at the beginning of the Block Parties, however, that have earned him the greatest r-e-s-p-e-c-t.
“His first year we threw Ian into the breach of an area that needed improvement,” said Block Party Co-Organizer Lee Moreau. “Based on his experience and observations, he offered constructive feedback and suggested options for us to consider.
“Ian always rolls up sleeves and adds sweat equity to figure out how we can improve. He’s thoughtful, works well with teammates, has a great sense of humor, and has been a welcome addition to the Block Party volunteer corps.”
As satisfying as it may be to rub elbows with other LHF volunteers, and to pay homage to the Queen of Soul from time to time, Ian’s loftiest dream is to visit Paris.
Surely, in retirement, that doesn’t seem like a difficult one to make come true, until he adds, “… in 1924.”
“I can imagine hanging out in a cafe with Ernest Hemingway, enjoying Sancerre and oysters, or attending a party at Gertrude Stein’s apartment, rubbing elbows with the likes of Picasso and Matisse.
“It’s the romantic in me. It was a place and period that appeals to my love of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Plus,” he added wryly, “… they had absinthe.”
Back in 2020, enter LHF Volunteer Coordinator Judy Caruso, who does recall how Ian was first recruited as an LHF volunteer.
“Ian was an acquaintance of mine. I did a ‘shout out’ on Facebook for volunteers and he signed on,” she said. “He puts his heart into whatever task he’s been given. He’s so dedicated, he even came to our first Block Party organizing meeting this year, a week after having major surgery.”
From his end, Ian admits to having become “hooked” on volunteering for the LHF.
“The volunteers are great, fun people and many have become my close friends,” he said. “And the LHF folks are dedicated and professional, improving the events, year after year. Our shared love for the place we live is the value that ties us all together.”