Unsung Hero: Larry Rubinstein, leader of the pack

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SCARBOROUGH — The Bicycle Coalition of Maine picked a passionate leader when it elected Larry Rubinstein president of its board.

“Maine is one of the best places to bike in the United States,” Rubinstein said. “There’s no place that isn’t pretty, and you don’t encounter the hostility of drivers that you find in a lot of metropolitan areas.”

Rubinstein noted that Maine is the only state on the East Coast ranked among the top 10 states for biking. (Maine ranks second, just behind the state of Washington.) He added that with 7,000 members, Maine by far has the highest bicycle coalition membership per capita of any state.

Education heads the list of the coalition’s activities. Each year volunteers provide training to more than 70,000 students in schools throughout the state.

“We teach the basics, such as hand signals, traffic laws and the use of helmets,” Rubinstein said. “We also encourage kids to ride bikes to school rather than take the bus.”

Such efforts address the obesity problem and help reduce dependence on gasoline.

Other activities include an annual Lobster Ride in Rockland, a Woman’s Ride, a raffle and a Bike Swap.

“The goal of the Bike Swap,” Rubinstein said, “is to get bikes out of garages and into someone’s hands.”

In addition, 12 people serve as “Community Spokes” to lead advocacy efforts for bicycling in their local areas.

In explaining his devotion to the sport of biking, Rubinstein said, “I love biking, and I love the people who bike.”

Be assured, though, that Rubinstein is not just a one-trick pony. His many volunteer activities include being a member of the Friends of the Kotzchmar Organ; trustee of the Portland Museum of Art; board member of the Bowdoin International Music Festival, and member of the board of overseers for Opera Boston. He has also been involved at Columbia University (his alma mater) for decades, as a trustee and as a leading fundraiser.

Rubinstein is a terrific board member for so many organizations because of his passion for whatever he does and his ability to raise money and inspire others to do the same.

When asked the key to successful fundraising, he said, “You have to be willing to ask.” You also must be able to come up with good ideas, such as the creation of the Yellow Jersey Club for people who give at least $1,000 to the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

Rubinstein and his wife Robin moved to Maine only eight years ago, but they knew the state’s virtues well before making the move. He said he spent many happy times at his parents’ camp in Maine as a boy growing up in the Bronx. And he and Robin spent many summer vacations at the camp, which now belongs to Rubinstein and his siblings.

Rubinstein’s career resume also includes 13 years as a rabbi in the pulpit, followed by leadership roles at various Jewish organizations, each of which needed someone with the ability to raise money.

“Surprise Lake Camp remains closest to my heart,” he admitted.

The camp, located in Cold Spring, N.Y., was founded in 1902 as its website notes, “a haven for Jewish children.” Rubinstein’s father had attended the camp and, inspired by his dad’s stories, Rubinstein convinced his dad to let him go. His two daughters continued the tradition, and one of his grandchildren is currently a Surprise Lake camper. Rubinstein served on the board of Surprise Lake Camp and, of course, as a major fundraiser for the nonprofit organization.

When asked why he chooses to spend his “retirement years,” doing so much for so many organizations, Rubinstein said, “I think everyone has an obligation to do something good for the health of the community. It’s an important part of the American culture.”

Sidebar Elements

Larry Rubinstein at his home in Scarborough with the Parlee road bike he calls his Black Stallion. Rubinstein is president of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and is a major fundraiser for it and several other organizations.

Unsung Heroes

One in a series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: heroes@theforecaster.net.