FAYETTE — Don and Roberta Simoneau have always “done everything” for Fayette Central School.

When Superintendent Tara Morin needed a gavel for school board meetings, Don Simoneau made her one.

When fifth-graders were made responsible for raising the flag at school, Don Simoneau taught them proper flag etiquette from his time in the military.

And when he heard about “buddy benches”‘ on the local news, Simoneau contacted Morin to see if the school had one.

Soon as she said no, he got to work, even during this summer when he had health issues.

“It still didn’t stop him,” Morin said.

The bench will sit on the edge of the playground, in a spot chosen by the fifth-graders.

The purpose of the “buddy bench” is to alert students to classmates who might be looking for others with whom they can play. Students who feel alone or have no playmates at recess can sit on the bench and wait for friends to come over.

When he first heard of the idea on the news, Don Simoneau thought it “terrific” and immediately called Morin.

As Izabella Fleming-Douglas, right, sits Friday on the new “buddy bench” on the playground at Fayette Central School, Millie Laverdiere, middle, and Ava Smith come over to talk with her. The girls discussed what to do next and then headed off together to play. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“You can always look around the room or school and see, ‘Oh, he or she looks sad,'” Don Simoneau said. “Maybe, just maybe, it will help someone who needs a pal.”

Simoneau said he was excited to make the bench for the Fayette students, mainly because he had not been able to volunteer at the school because of his health issues and the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I had to be very careful,” he said.

In addition to their involvement volunteering at Fayette Central, Don and Roberta Simoneaus’ three children — now 45, 42 and 39 — went through the school. Don Simoneau also served for nine years on the school board.

Don Simoneau said as a volunteer, he brought nine computers to the school when such technology was not yet a staple of education.

“I would come in two days a week and teach computer to them,” Don Simoneau said. “I would lug my computers, the colored ones — ‘Cocos’ — and lug in TV monitors, keyboard and the whole works, and spend the day.”

The new “buddy bench” on the playground at Fayette Central School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

He said his family has had a “long connection with the school” and is “proud of it.”

“It’s our community school,” Don Simoneau said. “We don’t have much in Fayette. We have a general store and a couple boys’ and girls’ camps, but the school has been a uniting part of the town.”

Don Simoneau said he finished the “buddy bench” last week, a couple of weeks later than his goal to have it ready by the start of the school year.

Presenting the bench to students, who did not know it was being installed, Roberta Simoneau and Morin unveiled it last week. It had been covered by a sheet to surprise the students, and was decorated with photographs of Don Simoneau.

Roberta Simoneau stands by the Buddy Bench created by her husband, Donald, for the Fayette Central School. Submitted photo

“I asked them, ‘Does anyone know what a ‘buddy bench’ is?’ All their hands shot up,” Morin said, adding the students were clearly excited.

Most of the students know Don and Roberta Simoneau from the couple’s volunteerism before the COVID-19 pandemic. Morin said the younger students have not gotten to know the couple well, so the older students chose where the bench would be located.

Morin, meantime, said she is keeping an eye out this week for students who use Fayette Central School’s new “buddy bench.”

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