FARMINGTON — Jim Toner, the director of the University of Maine at Farmington’s Fitness and Recreation Center and a former director of both parks and recreation and public works in Waterville, died Monday of cancer.

Toner, 59, served as director of the Fitness and Recreation Center, or FRC, since 2006 and was the founder of the center’s Mainely Outdoors Program and the annual Sandy River Canoe/Kayak Race.

He was Waterville’s director of parks and recreation from 1988 to 2004 and served in that role as well as director of public works in Waterville from 2004 to 2006.

“He was for those who knew him an excellent colleague, and, what is more, a man of remarkable integrity and decency,” said UMF Interim President Eric C. Brown and Vice President for Student and Community Services F. Celeste Branham in a letter to the campus community. “Indeed, he was cherished by those who worked most closely with him in the FRC, Athletics and the Student Services departments.”

Toner died Monday morning at home after being diagnosed with cancer last fall, according to the letter. He was a resident of New Vineyard and leaves behind a wife, Barbara; two children, Joe and Anna; and several grandchildren.

Joe Toner, who also works at UMF, in the financial aid department, and lives in Jay, said in an interview his father’s work was extremely important to him and the fact he was able to work after being diagnosed with gall bladder or bile duct cancer last August was comforting to him.

“He really enjoyed the age group he was working with, as well as his co-workers and staff,” Joe Toner said. “He alluded to them as his UMF family. I think it was working with students at that age that really allowed him to enjoy the type of work and the outdoors excursions with them.”

From the start of his time at UMF, Toner led the FRC through re-branding and a revision of its mission, helping the center to serve many more students, student groups and faculty, staff and community members than any prior director, the letter from university leaders said.

The center is UMF’s largest employer of students on campus, and because of that, Toner also helped students gain valuable experiential learning.

“He was a wonderful human being,” said UMF Director of Athletics, Fitness and Recreation Julie Davis, Toner’s friend and immediate supervisor. “He was very even-keeled and really good with the community. He was a customer service person but he was also an educator, so it made him a great fit for the university. He has a large student staff at the fitness center, and he inspired them.”

In an interview, Davis talked about how Toner founded the university’s outdoor recreation program, Mainely Outdoors, then helped it move into its own physical space in 2015 on Quebec Street.

She said the program — which included year-round adventures and outings such as hiking, snowshoeing, canoeing and bicycling — brought together students and community members and encouraged people to take advantage of the outdoors.

“It was a missing piece,” Davis said. “We’re in this wonderful location and we knew we needed to make sure to take advantage of it and expose students and community members to these opportunities, rather than assume they already knew. He loved sharing those natural resources and making them accessible to people.”

Outside UMF, university officials said Toner was involved in the Franklin County community.

After the departure of the long-serving coordinator of the SnowCats program at Titcomb Mountain, an after-school ski program, Toner oversaw the continued involvement of UMF students and ensured the program continued.

He also officiated high school basketball games and became a trainer for area officials, and played a role each year in the New Vineyard Library fundraiser.

In 2011, he launched the Sandy River Canoe/Kayak Race and Fun Paddle, and in 2016 he was recognized with UMF’s professional staff award.

“He was really selfless and would give anyone the shirt off his back,” Joe Toner said. He said he didn’t know if he would be able to give a eulogy at his father’s service, but said there was one story he wanted to share about him.

When he was about 14 years old, Joe Toner said, he got his first job working in the strawberry fields at Underwood Strawberry Farm in Benton. His father worked at Waterville City Hall at the time, but didn’t hesitate to get up extra early and bring his son, who wasn’t old enough to drive yet, to work at 5 a.m. “Without a complaint or a second thought he would get up, bring me in and then go to work a few hours before he had to be there and work a full day afterwards,” Joe Toner said. “I never thought much of it myself until years later when I realized how crazy that was. There are tons of stories like that about him.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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