Making a difference

People who go the extra mile in their community create footprints, which over time encourage others to walk down the same path. This is what the Footprint Awards mean to the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation.

The first award was given to George Weaver in 2002, while this year the award goes to Dick and Carmen Gilman of Fredonia for their continued efforts in making a difference in their community.

NCCF President Peter Clark had the privilege Monday at the JCC North Training Center in Dunkirk of giving the certificate and a picture to the Gilmans, followed by a video honoring them.

Several Fredonia community members spoke on behalf of the Gilmans’ commitment to the place they call home.

Fredonia Opera House Executive Director Rick Davis mentioned their love for music.

“Probably the thing people most know you for here at the Opera House is your sponsorship of the Fredonia Folk Music Series,” he said. “… so we can present three to four concerts a season by wonderful local, regional, renowned international and national folk musicians.”

Davis added his gratitude for their creative solutions to problems at the Opera House.

“A few years ago when our curtain linings were just crumbling because of dry rot, your idea to cut out the linings and make new free-hand curtains took two days, but we did it for every window,” he said. “I am thrilled the NCCF has seen fit to honor you this year. The Opera House exists in large part because of your involvement.”

SUNY Fredonia alums Joe and Wendy Straight spoke highly of the Gilmans.

“You collected American folk tunes and shared those with the community,” Wendy Straight said. “Carmen and Dick are both talented musicians and Carmen has the voice of an angel, but never kept that music to themselves.”

“Several decades ago they began the pre-weekly concert series, which moved to the Opera House. You have preserved not only the music, not only the dancing, but in doing all this you nurtured some of the finest folk musicians around today. You recognized their talent very early and gave each of them what they needed to proceed professionally,” she continued.

Joe Straight learned, along with the community, just how nurturing the Gilmans could be.

“You always share your art with the whole community. Carmen’s beautiful drawings and paintings, Dick’s masterful wood work,” he said. “It is because of you we are aware of our place in Chautauqua County. Dick is a geologist who made us all aware of our history.”

SUNY Fredonia alum Jim Boltz feels it is about time the spotlight is on the Gilmans.

“For all you have done to make the region a better place to live, the countless hours of volunteer service and unlimited creativity,” he said. “You spearheaded the wonderful nature trail on Lake Erie. Anyone can pick up the illustrated pamphlet, written by Dick, and illustrated by Carmen. The hilltop overlook invites us to look at the majestic lake.”

Boltz described the dedication they had to the Opera House.

“Decades ago the decision of what to do with the Fredonia Opera House and Village Hall was a hot topic,” he said. “Preservationists were born who offered an alternative to demolition. Volunteers planned and completed the restoration of the Opera House. That project is the greatest grassroots undertaking this region has ever known. The Gilmans not only knew when to grab a broom or polish metal, but they performed fine carpentry and painted some of the finest details found in the area. They had vision. The Gilmans’ philanthropy, however it is measured, sets a very high standard; when need is strong they never fail to step up.”

Carmen Gilman had a few words when accepting the award.

“The first glimpse I had of Chautauqua County, especially the area around Fredonia, is when Dick accepted a position in the geology department at SUNY Fredonia,” she said. “I was so excited; it was night out, because I could see lights above the horizon. When Dick retired people asked where we would go, and if we would leave. We said ‘Why would we do that?’ We have everything we want here.”

“Chautauqua County is indeed a beautiful place and a wonderful place to live,” Dick Gilman agreed. “It has been very generous to us and it has been our pleasure to be as generous as we can to give back to the community.”

Dick told a story about getting ready for Monday afternoon’s honor.

“Before coming here I was sitting on my front deck thinking about what to say,” he said. “I looked up and saw jet stream just as a plane went over. It dawned on me those people up there probably hadn’t a clue about this great place they just passed over. Who knows where they are, but we are here and it’s a wonderful place. We have had a wonderful time in Fredonia.”

Comments on this story may be sent to