BANGOR, Maine — Nelson Durgin took no more than a second to answer when asked what has made civic involvement so important to him and Carla, his wife for 51 years.

“I’ll give you a quote I’m going to use later,” said the co-winner of the Boy Scouts of America’s 2012 Katahdin Area Council Distinguished Citizens Award. “‘Service to humanity is the best work of life.’ Those are the words of Henry Giessenbier, who founded the United States Jaycees.”

Both Durgins have been actively involved in Jaycees, a civic service organization, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows them well.

Service and assistance are ingrained in the Durgins’ lives, especially since they were married in 1961. So it was an easy condition for Katahdin Area Council officials to meet when Nelson Durgin — upon being notified that they would like to honor him with their annual award — asked that his wife be included as a co-honoree.

“I’ve always been proud of my husband, but I was surprised we were to share the honor, and very pleased,” said the Greenwood native. “I was never active with Boy Scouts, but was kind of the behind-the-scenes person and kept the home fires burning.”

She may not have been in Boy Scouts, but Carla Durgin was an active member of Girl Scouts for six years and before that, a Brownie and Girl Scout for five years.

Almost 400 people gathered Wednesday night for the Distinguished Citizens award dinner at the Bangor Civic Center to honor the Durgins for their devotion to and involvement with community services and organizations.

Nelson Durgin — an Oxford native who serves on the Bangor City Council, on its business and economic development committee, and on the finance committee as chairman — said having so many people turn out for the annual event was both heartwarming and gratifying, but he deflected any credit on his behalf for the turnout.

“This is a very special evening to us, but to me, it’s a recognition of what family and people can do in their communities to ensure their communities have the services and facilities needed in community building,” said Durgin. “Every organization I’ve been involved in has been very active in doing things to improve local services, conditions or support.”

Durgin, 75, has invested a lot of time into the Boy Scouts of America, first as a 17-year Scout who advanced all the way to the level of Star Scout while a member of Pack 98 and Troop 98 before it was disbanded, and later as a board member and administrator for Katahdin Area Council from 1994 to the present day.

“The thing about Boy Scouts in particular that interests me is the continuity of the program, the way it involves the young people and gives them some very basic training skills that serve them for the rest of their lives,” Nelson Durgin said.

Marshall Steinmann, Katahdin Area Council’s executive director, referred to recent news reports concerning confidential files kept by Boy Scouts of America on people banned from Scouting due to involvement with sexual and-or child crimes, saying Scouting remains an organization committed to children’s safety.

“Be assured that our children are as safe today in Scouting as they have ever been,” said Steinmann, who is the father of two First Class Scouts.

Nelson Durgin also referenced recent news reports about the BSA.

“There has been some bad publicity about Scouts in the last couple weeks, and I think Scouts has learned some lessons through the years and come out a better organization as a result,” said Durgin. “I am very proud of my affiliation with Scouting and the work Scouting does in communities nationwide.”

Nelson Durgin’s service wasn’t limited to his community. He retired from the Maine Air National Guard with the rank of major general after 24 years of service. He served as Maine’s Adjutant General as well as Commissioner of the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management.

The Durgins, who moved from Belfast to Bangor in 1967, have two children — Michael and Marjorie — and three grandchildren — Katherine, Nelson and Mason.

In addition to assisting and supporting Nelson in his Boy Scouts endeavors, Carla is an active member of Hammond Street Congregational Church along with her husband. They have helped organize stewardship campaigns, coordinated pastor search committees and served in a variety of roles from volunteers to church officials.