During his long nights at work, there was one number that Joe Hildebrand knew he could dial when he needed company and someone to help pass the time.
Each time he picked up the phone, Roger Simon was there on the other end ready to listen and chat as long as he needed.
Hildebrand would repay the favor during Simon’s long hauls back from his second home in Florida.
“I should try to call U.S. Cellular and see how many minutes I talked to that man,” Hildebrand said. “If he was driving home from Florida or I was working, we would call and try to keep each other awake.”
That’s the one thing Hildebrand will miss most about Simon — just talking to him.
Roger Simon, 67, owner and president of Simon’s Trucking Inc. in Farley, died July 19.
Simon took over his father’s business, Simon’s Feed Store, in 1970 and began Simon’s Trucking, which now employs about 150 people. He recently purchased what is now 300 Raceway in Farley and was in the midst of updating the facility to begin tractor and truck pulling competitions.
“He was a two-wheel-drive truck pulling champion,” said one of his daughters, Nicole Philipp.
Growing up, she recalls watching her dad compete on ESPN and said the races or his drives for work allowed her to see all 50 states, even if it was just a small pit stop at a zoo or a well-known monument.
“I cut all my teeth on a steering wheel,” Philipp said.
Simon’s second daughter, Melissa Demmer, said her dad made an effort to help in any way he could, whether it was donating to local churches or schools or just being a friend to someone in need.
“He was always willing to help when someone needed help,” she said. “After he went, he still gave part of himself by donating his organs.”
For Jason Moore, who said he worked for Simon’s Trucking for 14 years, Simon was more than his employer. He was a mentor, friend and more.
“He treated all of his drivers as family,” Moore said. “You were family and not a number.”
When Hildebrand was about 15, he remembers going down to the Delaware County Fair and watching Simon compete in the truck pulling competitions. From the sidelines, Hildebrand watched Simon’s flashy truck whirl by with the words “Simon Sez” painted on the side.
He remembers driving to Fort Wayne, Ind., about 20 years ago to watch Simon compete in a pulling competition. As he rolled into the event, Roger was waiting and waved him through into the coliseum.
All at once, he was surrounded by an arena filled with thousands of cheering fans. He wasn’t on the sidelines anymore.
“Roger made you feel like you were a part of it right with him,” he said. “Everyone has a hero like Michael Jordan or someone, and Roger was my hero. He was a leader.”