Leif Dahlin is to retire soon as Augusta’s director of community services. He is shown last Thursday at Fuller Field. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — For 20 years, Leif Dahlin has overseen “quality of life” in the city of Augusta.

Dahlin, who is scheduled to retire April 30, is, technically, the city’s director of community services. But he does so much more, from parks, to general assistance for residents in need to recreational and child care programming, to special events and the development of new trails and sports fields.

Given all Dahlin has done, it is easy to understand why he considers himself director of Augusta’s “quality of life” department, even if the role likely interfered with his personal quality of life. Dahlin has worked long hours to oversee special events, such as Fourth of July and other holiday events, and taken on additional duties when the city, due to cutbacks, eliminated staff positions.

Leif Dahlin, who is to retire soon as Augusta’s director of community services, explains the turf field project last Thursday at Fuller Field. This summer, the grass field inside the Taylor Harmon Track is to be replaced with turf. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“Leif has dedicated his whole adult life to the field of parks and recreation and other community-based services,” said City Manager William Bridgeo, who also recently announced his own plans to retire later this year. “He set the gold standard for commitment to the community, and we’re going to miss him very much.

“He really is the Energizer bunny. On Tuesdays, he puts out the sandwich board for the farmer’s market. On the Fourth of July, he’s out there, no matter the weather, at sacrifice to his personal family activities. He has the deepest commitment to this community.”

Dahlin was moved to tears recently when city councilors issued a proclamation declaring April 30  as Leif Dahlin Day in Augusta. Councilors praised Dahlin for his work and cited many of the projects or events with which he has been involved during his tenure in Augusta.

“All I thought I ever did was do my job,” Dahlin said, adding his efforts were fueled by a strong work ethic passed onto him by his parents and Scandinavian heritage.

Dahlin’s responsibilities as department director have included: City parks, cemeteries, athletic fields and other green spaces; Lithgow Public Library; city child care programs; special events; general assistance to residents in need; and Old Fort Western.

And projects or additions to the city in which he has held major roles have included: Development of Bicentennial Nature Park, Mill Park, the Kennebec River Rail Trail, Bond Brook Recreation Area, Williams Skate Park and numerous improvements to playgrounds, parks, pools and sports fields in the city, including representing the city in the ongoing development of Fuller Field, an artificial turf athletic field at Cony High School.

Leif Dahlin, who is to retire soon as Augusta’s director of community services, clears snow from the pavilion at Mill Park in December 2013 to prepare for the weekly farmers’ market. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Ward 4 City Councilor Eric Lind said there are also many projects in which Dahlin quietly played key roles for which he never sought recognition or applause.

“Service before self. You’ve always served the city. You’ve had an impact on the quality of life for us here in Augusta,” Lind told Dahlin. “You can walk out of here with your head held high. You’re going to be hard to replace. You’re a one-man wrecking crew.”

The challenge of succeeding Dahlin falls onto Earl Kingsbury, currently director of the Augusta Civic Center.

Dahlin said he had an epiphany recently when sitting in a tree stand while hunting — one of his favorite hobbies – that Kingsbury should be the next person to oversee “quality of life” in Augusta.

Kingsbury said Dahlin approached him with the idea only days after Kingsbury had begun thinking about putting in for the job.

Earl Kingsbury, director of the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“I think Leif and I, our personalities, are one in the same,” Kingsbury said. “I’ve lived in the city about 33 years now. I fell in love with Augusta, the community itself and the people. It has become my home.

“This position, the idea of becoming the director of, basically, the ‘quality of life’ is very intriguing to me, and I became very excited about it. I love a challenge. And to say this isn’t a challenge would be an understatement. I’m going from a size 9.5 shoe to a 13. And I’m learning that Leif has size 25 to 30 shoes to fill. But he’s got an extremely qualified and competent staff, very seasoned and very talented, and I know all the staff and completely trust them.”

Kingsbury and Dahlin have been meeting regularly in anticipation of the change in leadership.

“I’m so happy and so comfortable Earl is stepping in. He’s experienced. He’s going to step right in. Earl is going to be awesome,” Dahlin said.

Bridgeo said Kingsbury will assume the job on a 60-day trial basis, to see if he likes it and if it is a good fit. If things do not work as hoped, Kingsbury would be allowed to return to his job at the Civic Center.

The same applies to Margaret Noel, now deputy director of the Civic Center. Subject to City Council approval, Noel is Bridgeo’s nominee to become director of the Civic Center when Kingsbury leaves the post. She would be able to return to the deputy director’s job if Kingsbury were to return as director.

Earl Kingsbury, director of the Augusta Civic Center, and Deputy Director Margaret Noel in front of the Elvis Presley plaque Friday at the Civic Center lobby. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Bridgeo said he had spoken with city councilors about those plans and councilors have been supportive.

Noel, an Augusta native, came to the Civic Center five years ago after working for the Maine Municipal Association, where her duties included organizing the association’s conferences. She has a degree in hospitality management from Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, and has been in the hospitality industry her entire working life.

“I think she’s perfect for the job, a very good fit,” Kingsbury said of Noel. “She’s been doing a great portion of this job as the deputy director. She’s got a very good understanding and grasp of what the position is and what she needs to do.”

Kingsbury, according to Susan Robertson, director of human resources and assistant city manager, would be paid a salary of $105,000, while Noel would be paid $93,000.

Noel said she has trained under Kingsbury and is excited for the opportunity.

Margaret Noel, deputy director of the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” she said, “You get to learn about the community, the businesses in the community and the people. It’s so nice to be able to come back to the community and do my chosen career here. It’s an honor.”

Noel said she is eager to lead the Civic Center, which has suffered revenue losses due to a drastic reduction in public events and conferences during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I know I’m working into it at a deficit, but I know the business really well and the Augusta Civic Center really well, and I do have the support of the City Council and manager and even Earl, so I know they’ll assist me along the way,” she said.

“I’m definitely up for the challenge, and so is the rest of the team. We’re all looking forward to the day we can open up again and really run with it. We’re grateful for the groups we’ve been able to have, and thrilled to have the state Legislature here and the vaccination clinic, and glad we can be of service during this challenging period.”

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