Fort Fairfield recognizes Citizens of the Year

15 years ago
By Scott Mitchell Johnson
Staff Writer

    FORT FAIRFIELD – When Rayle Ainsworth and Sarah Ulman agreed to co-chair the Fort Fairfield Sesquicentennial Committee over a year ago, they did so out of the goodness of their hearts and expected nothing in return. However, their actions were duly noted last Thursday night as they were named Citizens of the Year at the Fort Fairfield Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner and meeting.

    “It’s an absolutely terrific honor,” said Ainsworth. “I was blown away … speechless … when I was told I was one of the recipients. We were doing it for the fun of it. This was the last thing on my mind. To think that somebody thought that we had done that good a job to be recognized is a real honor. I’m humbled.”
    Ulman said she, too, was honored to receive the award.
    “It was a surprise, and I’m honored to be recognized in this way,” she said, “and to share that honor with Rayle. We worked together and had a lot of fun doing it, and it’s nice to be recognized. One of the best things that came out of the sesquicentennial celebration was my friendship with Rayle.
    “I renewed a lot of acquaintances and I think she did, too, and I got to meet a lot of new people which was really nice. It was fun to watch the community work so hard together,” said Ulman. “It wasn’t really work for us because it was fun. We decided early on that we were going to make it fun, and if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t do it.”
    Born and raised in Fort Fairfield, Ainsworth left the area after graduating high school in 1966 to attend college.
    “My family’s been here for four generations,” she said. “I grew up here, and absolutely loved it. I have all wonderful memories of this town being a very supportive community.
    “Though I never came back to live,” she said, “I came back to visit my parents. I have been back frequently with my family, and when my parents passed, the decision was made that we were going to keep the old homestead, and as a result, we still have a lot of connection here. We want it to be our community, as well, even though we can’t get here fulltime.”
    Ulman and her husband, Steve, moved to Fort Fairfield in 1972.
    “I’m originally from Mankato, Minn. and lived in Iowa for seven years,” she said. “My husband and I have worked hard to make Fort Fairfield home. Even though I’m not from here, Fort Fairfield is definitely home and it’s very special to be recognized in this way.”
    Ainsworth and Ulman were approached in the summer of 2007 by Town Manager Dan Foster and Shawn Murchison, who was then the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, to see if they would be interested in co-chairing the sesquicentennial celebration.
    “They approached us individually,” said Ainsworth. “They asked if I would consider doing it, and I just started asking questions. I had been gone for 42 years and didn’t know who to reach out to in terms of the organizations in town. I said, ‘I can’t do this myself,’ but they said not to worry and that they were also going to ask Sarah to consider helping, as well.
    “I knew of Sarah, but didn’t know her,” she said. “Asking two people was one of the best things they could have done. There’s a synergy that develops in teamwork. Sarah and I got together and we both had a similar idea … we didn’t want it to be a one-show deal … we wanted to involve the community in celebrating 150 years and that was going to involve getting the people and organizations together as much as we could. We wanted it to be for all age groups, and I think we were able to do that. It was unbelievable how many people – with enough enthusiasm – were willing to help. They took over most of the work; we just outlined it and said we’d be the support.”
    Looking back on last year’s sesquicentennial, Ulman said she was most concerned about the first event – an open house and community potluck dinner held Feb. 2 at the Fort Fairfield Community Center.
    “I didn’t really know if people would attend,” she said, “but when we saw the response [more than 200 people attended] and how much fun people had getting together and telling stories, it was a real relief. The celebration kind of evolved from there.”
    Among the highlights of the year for Ulman were the vintage fashion show, the proclamation signing ceremony, tours/school days at the old 1858 schoolhouse, and the art show.
    “I would like to thank the community and the town employees for helping make our sesquicentennial such a success,” said Ulman. “The Town Council supported us with some funds, and the women at the town office should be commended for the work that they did for us. Any time we needed something photocopied or done on the computer, we would take it in and they were so gracious about doing that. Janet Kelle of the chamber also helped coordinate our events with the chamber’s activities.
    “Rayle and I are being singled out for co-chairing the committee,” Ulman said, “but this award really belongs to many, many people.”
    Throughout the year, the Sesquicentennial Committee and the Fort Fairfield Frontier Heritage Society collected stories and photos that will be published in a book later this year.


ImagePhoto courtesy of Richard K. Nichols
    RAYLE AINSWORTH, left, and Sarah Ulman were recognized at the Feb. 12 Fort Fairfield Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner and meeting as Citizens of the Year. The duo was selected for their work in chairing the Fort Fairfield Sesquicentennial Committee and planning events throughout 2008 as the town celebrated its 150th anniversary.