TOPSHAM — Sigurd “Sig” Knudsen had a passion for helping others.

“Everything in his life was them, and then him,” said his partner, Michael Coughlin. “He was very caring, very concerned about how people were treated.”

Mr. Knudsen, former executive director of People Plus in Brunswick, died Sunday at age 66.

Mr. Knudsen began his career as a social worker after earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Bowdoin College and a master’s from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

His first job was with the Coastal Economic Development Corp., where he worked at helping the agency comply with federal and state funding regulations. Mr. Knudsen then spent 10 years working in Alaska for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“When he was out there, he earned the respect of the Indian tribe,” Coughlin said. “He was pretty much one of the first social workers that the tribe could connect with.”

Mr. Knudsen tried to understand the tribe’s way of life and help them coexist with white residents. His approach with the natives in Toksook Bay not only earned their respect, but they gave him the indigenous name “Mingtuli,” meaning “the wake of a boat,” Coughlin said.

“(Giving a native name) is not something they normally do,” he said.

After returning to Maine, Mr. Knudsen most recently worked at People Plus, taking what was formerly a senior citizens club and creating a “vibrant intergenerational center,” Coughlin said.

Shortly after the center’s board of trustees approved changing the name from 55+ to People Plus, Mr. Knudsen explained his vision for the organization.

“We see ourselves as a resource to show people how to enjoy life and get more out of life as they age. Getting old doesn’t have to be a sentence. It is an opportunity,” Mr. Knudsen was quoted in a Nov. 22, 2004, Portland Press Herald article.

“That was his vision, to have a community for all ages,” Coughlin said.

Mr. Knudsen received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber in 2009 for his work with People Plus and other community organizations.

When Mr. Knudsen wasn’t working, he spent time with Coughlin and their daughter Amanda, now 15.

“He loved to read the Harry Potter series with our daughter,” Coughlin said.

When the first book was published, Amanda sat in Mr. Knudsen’s lap as he read to her. the time the seventh book was on the shelves, she was old enough to read herself, but insisted he continue to read to her.

“That was their time together,” Coughlin said. “She insisted that he read the whole series to her.”

Mr. Knudsen was also known for hosting gatherings for his diverse group of friends. Coughlin said his partner would often “pick friends that would not normally be acquainted with each other.”

“Maybe a doctor and a trash collector and have them over for dinner. They come from two separate worlds and before long they would become close friends,” he said.

It’s something he did successfully not only in his personal life, but through his work with People Plus as well.

“He could take two totally diverse groups and mingle them into one,” Coughlin said.

 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: [email protected]