Volunteerism and service: Lehmans win award for giving back

Mary and Ron Lehman (center) accept their award from Chris Caldwell (left), the President of the Channahon Park District Board of Commissioners and Mike Rittof, the President of the People for Channahon Parks Foundation.

The People for Channahon Parks Foundation awarded Ronald and Mary Ann Lehman with the 2023 ExxonMobil Individual Community Philanthropic Award on Oct. 6, thanking them for making it their mission to give back to their community through service, volunteerism and career.

For Ronald, stepping up started in high school. It was during the time of the Korean War, where most knew being in the military was inevitable.

“In my day, we had to register for the draft at the time of the Korean War. My junior and senior year of high school, the military was expected,” Ronald said.

However, it was after his friends joined the military that Ronald joined the U.S. Army in 1957.

“I discovered I was an Illinois State Scholar Program candidate, and my school was paid for. My buddies were going to Korea, I was in college, so I went four years after my buddies,” Ronald said.

He was assigned to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, followed by Fort Polk, Louisiana – now called Fort Johnson – and Fort Knox, Kentucky.

With his degree in coaching and minor in library science, Ronald said he was a clerk in the morning and coached sports and scheduled recreation. He was released because he had a job in a critical area of teaching, so his years in the Army and reserves were from June 1957 to his discharging in May 1963.

It was in college where he met his wife, Mary Ann, and the two married and lived and raised their family in Channahon. Mary Ann had 28 years teaching between Minooka and Channahon schools, taking a break to raise their children. Ronald was a coach, athletic director and retired as the principal of Minooka Community High School.

Ronald used his military training to coach his students with his set of ideals. “We are not a one-man unit and if we mess up, we pick up the pieces and go.”

In addition, he said he wished every kid had six months of military training. “It’s a place for discipline. They would learn personal habits, learn to work with people, such as your best friend is the guy in the foxhole next to you.”

Ronald said after the move to Channahon, he liked the outdoorsy atmosphere with the Illinois and Michigan Canal, the environment of the town as well, as the local history, and decided to volunteer. Over the years, he served as a commissioner for the Channahon Park District only eight months after the district was founded; was key in the creation of the Tomahawk Aquatic Center; Heritage Bluffs Golf Club; Heritage Crossing Field House; and with Channahon School District 17 in 2003. More recently, a partnership with Channahon Township brought Sengo Adventure Garden to Channahon in 2019, according to Jennifer Mensik, Channahon Park District Director of Marketing and Development. Ronald also helped start the local nonprofit People for Channahon Parks Foundation.

Ronald has been a trustee of the village of Channahon, member of the Channahon-Minooka Rotary Club and board member and chairman of the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor Commission.

He has served on the boards of the Illinois Association of Park Districts, National Recreation and Park Association and is a founding member of the National Association of Park Foundations.

Mary Ann worked as a volunteer within their church, Channahon United Methodist Church. She has volunteered in myriad ways over the years and, currently, a new meal ministry has takes up much of her time. The group cooks meals to feed several local families in need for a month. They cook all day and prep freezer meals.

Ronald said Mary Ann has become a good finger-pointer when she needs his help.

“Bless her soul, she came home after the first time and said the group needed a dishwasher. I took it as ‘Why don’t you do that?’ That’s her finger-pointing,” Ronald said.

The two plan to slow down but keep involved in their beloved community. As he gave service to his country in the Army, Ronald said he and Mary Ann will, “just keep volunteering as you do. To say I’ve done this and that is not right, I’ve had a lot of help. It’s a ‘we’ thing.”