Shared from the 2017-07-17 The News-Times eEdition

OUTSTANDING SENIORS OF THE YEAR

Town honors couple for volunteering

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H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

Gail Lehman and her husband, Ernie, were named Outstanding Seniors of the Year by the Commission on Aging in New Fairfield for their continued volunteer work during the 50 years they have lived in the town.

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H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media

Gail and Ernie Lehman were named Outstanding Seniors of the Year by the Commission on Aging in New Fairfield.

NEW FAIRFIELD — In the 50 years Ernie and Gail Lehman have lived in New Fairfield, they have made volunteering their lifestyle.

So when they heard the town’s Commission on Aging had named them Outstanding Seniors of the Year — the first time a couple was recognized for the award — they were shocked.

“We were so surprised, because we’ve been doing this for years,” Gail, 75, said. “We enjoy doing it, so we stay involved.”

The commission, which has been awarding an individual senior citizen each year since 2012, looks for somebody who is visible in the community and works to make a difference in New Fairfield, member Roberta Ilardo said. She said this year, the decision to honor the Lehmans was unanimous.

“When we think of the Lehmans, you can’t pick one over the other,” Ilardo said. “Their lives have been dedicated to serving our community of New Fairfield. They both epitomize an altruistic spirit and have so many philanthropic deeds.”

For the Lehmans, who were married in 1962, dedicating a life to service has been as simple as stepping up when a need arose.

Ernie, 84, said his first volunteer experience began in 1957 when a friend asked whether he wanted to help the Parks and Recreation Commission. He joined as a member and then later served as chairman and director of the department.

“When we think of the Lehmans, you can’t pick one over the other. Their lives have been dedicated to serving our community of New Fairfield. They both epitomize an altruistic spirit and have so many philanthropic deeds.”
Roberta Ilardo, Commission on Aging member

The same was true when a friend suggested he help with Habitat for Humanity, for which he ended up building 28 houses in the area, or when there was an opening on the Planning Commission, where he still serves. Ernie also is on the Ethics Committe in New Fairfield and the Cemetery Committee for his church in Brookfield.

“All the things we were doing, we either saw a need or thought there should be a need for this and we would step in and help out,” said Ernie, who teaches math at Western Connecticut State University.

Gail, who is chairwoman of the New Fairfield Library board of trustees, said she recognized a need in the community when she realized the library was one of four in the state that was not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. She helped lead a recently completed renovation to the building, which added an elevator and other services.

As chairwoman of her church’s Caring Ministries, Gail has also worked to identify ways to make a difference in other communities. The committee facilitates volunteer opportunities for the church’s members, often in places where churchgoers already volunteer.

”The beauty of the Caring Ministry committee is it doesn’t have to be the whole congregation doing it,” Gail said. “It enables us to serve more people that way and it also enables us to get to know in the community where the needs are. We’re able to extend our arm and helping hand out to different communities.”

Ilardo said one of the most important things the Lehmans accomplished in the commission’s eyes was their creation of the Continuing Adult Education Program.

Gail and Ernie volunteered to start the program in 1994 after town officials realized that many New Fairfield residents were going to other towns to take advantage of adult classes.

The couple ran the program for nearly 10 years and offered night classes in everything from flower arranging to computers.

“We wore a lot of hats,” Gail said. “The whole time we were having fun.”

The couple, grandparents to twin 14-year-olds, also manned a shelter during Superstorm Sandy. Ernie said they decided to help so the town officials could focus on other things in the community, like restoring electricity.

Gail, who works as program director of the medical coding certificate program at Danbury Hospital, said the most exciting part of winning the award has been hearing from old friends. Many people who have seen the news have reached out to congratulate her and Ernie, she said.

”They’re remarkable and it’s wonderful to have them in our community,” Ilardo said. “They’re an example for all seniors.” aquinn@newstimes.com; @QuinnNewsTimes

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