NEW FAIRFIELD – There are many people who volunteer at one time or another. However, New Fairfield couple Ernie and Gail Lehman have devoted their lives to community service.
For this reason, they’ve recently been honored by the Commission on Aging in New Fairfield as Outstanding Seniors of the year. “We honor a person who has dedicated lots of time and energy to better New Fairfield,” Commission member Roberta Ilardo said.
While the Commission has always honored individuals, this year, for the first time ever, it’s honoring a couple. “The Lehmans have a very strong commitment to our town. They have contributed countless volunteer hours in so many different ways and in so many different capacities,” Illardo added.
Ernie, 82, and Gail, 75, have lived in New Fairfield for over 50 years. They have a daughter named Pamela and 14-year-old twin grandchildren who live in Woodbury.
The couple has each volunteered individually as well as together.
Gail Lehman is chairman of the New Fairfield Library Board of Trustees. One of her biggest accomplishments on the board is helping to get an elevator installed in the building.
“Prior to the elevator, those who had any disabilities had to park in the back of the library and come up the hill. We realized how much this had limited people from coming to the library — especially those who use crutches, wheelchairs and canes,” she said.
The library renovation also involved bringing the wiring and the lighting up to date.
As a whole, Gail Lehman said, “we helped rearrange the library in order to enable the staff to work more efficiently,” said Lehman, who works as program director of the medical coding certificate program at Danbury Hospital.
Aside from the library renovation, she’s chairman of the Caring Ministries at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Brookfield.
As for Ernie Lehman, he served as chairman and director of New Fairfield’s Parks and Recreation Department. His most notable accomplishment while in this role was offering Friday night dances to students, as well as sports programs such as basketball and swim.
“These had not previously been available in the community. You had to go out of town to do them,” he said.
According to Ernie Lehman, these programs were very successful. “They served a need at that point. This need is now being served by the school programs,” said Ernie Lehman, who teaches math at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury.
Ernie Lehman is also a volunteer on the New Fairfield Planning Commission. As part of this commission, he helped create a 160-page booklet for a 10-year plan for the town.
He also serves on the New Fairfield Cemetery and Ethics committees in town.
The Lehmans have volunteered as a couple as well. They founded the New Fairfield Continuing Adult Education Program, which existed from 1994 to 2005.
Classes in the program were on a wide variety of topics, including programming, photography and flower arranging. There was even a class on even how to make beer. “Anything that people were interested in, we developed. It was self supporting,” Gail Lehman said.
During the snowstorm of 2011 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, they staffed the emergency shelter that New Fairfield opened at the high school. “This involved checking people in and overseeing them. We were there for a week each time,” she said.
“We also manned the desk and gave a crash course on what was going on so the selectman could be freed up to take care of the emergency parts of the town,” she added.
The Lehmans believe that everyone should do their part in giving back to the community in which they live. “You can’t always wait to be asked; you have to recognize a need and see if you can help out,” Gail Lehman said,
Ernie Lehman said, “There are things you do in the town because you are part of the town, it’s a community effort.”
Aside from all his hours of volunteer work, the Lehmans still find time to get regular exercise.
“We bicycle and help with the Harlem Valley Rail Trail Association, an organization that promotes safe biking and building of rail trails in the area,” Ernie Lehman said,
The Lehmans, who will be married for 55 years in July, say they greatly enjoy living in town.
“New Fairfield is a friendly community to raise a family in and has a good education system and nice people,” Gail Lehman said.
By Sandra Diamond Fox