The stage illuminates in front of a velvet curtain as Jeffery Kin, managing artistic director of The Players Centre for Performing Arts, takes the stage. “None of this would have happened if we didn’t have a wonderful space,” he says. “And the man who helped us get this space is right back there.” Heads and bodies of young imagineers and artists collectively swivel toward the back of the theatre, where Arnold Simonsen sits quietly. He’s there to revel in the performance, nothing else. Young actors and their familial entourages rise and applaud as a single, warm spotlight shines down on the gentle giant. He stands and waves humbly, radiating a warm glow. 

Arnold Simonsen donated millions of dollars to Sarasota organizations before passing in July, creating a memorable presence that will not be forgotten. 

“He was not invisible to them . . .all the kids knew who Arnold was,” says Donna DeFant, chair of the board of trustees at The Players. And just as Arnold Simonsen wanted no child to fall through the cracks, the kids wanted the same for him. From the start of The Arnold Simonsen Players Studio to his time recovering in a hospital room, the kids emulated their hero by signing cards and sending notes—ensuring that just as they had been celebrated and supported, so would he. 

“There were no strings attached,” says Richard Russell, executive director of the Sarasota Opera. Simonsen understood wants and needs, and knew that organizations knew what was best for their own success. A regular subscriber to the Sarasota Opera since 2007, Simonsen attended all shows and galas, underwrote operas, supported the Sarasota Youth Opera and Bradenton Opera Guild, and often compared Sarasota Opera favorably to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, his old stomping grounds. “We have supporters and we
lose a fair number of them, but there are some you develop a personal connection with, and Arnold was one of them,” says Russell. A generous supporter of the arts, Simonsen let his money speak for his passions, saving the limelight for those under the spotlights. He came to Florida Studio Theatre’s rescue “in one fell swoop,” says Richard Hopkins, the producing artistic director of FST, referring to Simonsen’s funding of
their new costume shop and production building. 

Through the Quality of Life by Choice program at Salvation Army Sarasota, Simonsen also combated the homelessness crisis by supporting individuals and aiding them in their transition from homelessness to housing. “Mr. Simonsen’s gifts will provide a legacy of serving the most vulnerable populations in our community,” says Glenda Leonard, director of development at Salvation Army Sarasota. And while Simonsen was a champion of philanthropy in many arenas, supporting the American Cancer Society, Alzheimer’s Association, Longboat Island Chapel and Longboat Key’s Paradise Center for Healthy Living, no tribute to him can be written without mentioning Rhonda Montminy. From Sarasota Opera’s Simonsen and Montminy Opera Club to FST’s Arnold Simonsen and Rhonda Montminy Theatre Wing, Rhonda was Arnold’s partner in both generosity and life. And even after his passing, she continues to exude warmth and compassion in ways that carry on Simonsen’s legacy. At a recent Players’ performance, Chair DeFant shared that Montminy attended with pride and enthusiasm, despite a broken air conditioner and Arnold missing from her side. “She was so happy to be there because those are Arnold’s kids,” says DeFant. 

“His memory will definitely live on with us.”