John Yeomans was devoted to the town of Lyme and the welfare of its people. It was 1975, and he was in his 2nd of three two-year terms as the town’s First Selectman. While John appreciated the services rendered to the town’s citizenry by the South Lyme Ambulance Group in Old Lyme, he also recognized that Lyme needed a first-responder that was closer, and able respond to calls more quickly.
He went to Chuck Jewett, a neighbor and the former Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut, with an idea to start a new ambulance group in Hadlyme. They both recognized that nothing could be done without first raising funds. Jerry Ballek, an area banker who was also the Lyme Town Treasurer, was tapped as treasurer of the new organization. With Jerry in place, proper financial records and assistance in the initial fund drive were assured.
But donations would be hard to come by without a tax incentive. So Chuck Jewett agreed to help the association become a Connecticut corporation with a 501c non-profit designation. Thanks to Mr. Jewett’s generous donation of his legal services, the Lyme Ambulance Association was founded as a 501 corporation and registered with the state on July 8, 1975.
Now with an established structure and a treasurer in place, the Association was ready to solicit donations.
Jewett enlisted the aid of Phil Schwartz, a local resident and the president of a firearms company, and together they called on Mrs. W. Roosevelt Thompson of Selden Road. Mrs. Thompson’s husband had recently died and she offered to provide an initial $25,000 for the establishment of a local ambulance service. In return, she asked only that it be publicized as a memorial to her late husband.
With seed money now in hand, Yeomans and Schwartz went looking for a second hand ambulance. As luck would have it, they found a 1971 Cadillac Ambulance in Deep River and purchased it for $7,500. They sent it to Park Superior of Somers Connecticut, a firm specializing at that time in refurbishing ambulances, funeral coaches and limousines, and had it completely overhauled.
With the equipment issue resolved, the next item was to identify a place to call home. In other words, a place to house, dispatch and operate the service. Only then could the Association get state approval and a designation of a primary service area.
In hopes of finding a place to keep the ambulance, permission was sought to locate the ambulance in the Hadlyme Firehouse, along with some storage and work space. While initially there was a lack of enthusiasm for this arrangement, Yeomans was his usual persistent, productive self and the service found a home.
Muriel Weed, Mary Tisdale, Jane DeWolf, Phyllis Worthington and Mildred Luther served as the dispatchers for the fire service at that time, and John Yeomans asked if they would assume the added task of handling the emergency calls for the ambulance service. They graciously agreed to do so, and thus, one more obstacle had been overcome.
John Yeomans targeted volunteers that he felt would not only be good crew members, but willing to serve their community in this new effort. In the first 2 years, he recruited some 34 people. Harold Hawthorne, for instance, the popular school bus driver and fire volunteer was tapped to be the siren activator and a driver. Consequently, he was often the first to arrive at the firehouse when the siren sounded.
Yeomans tapped others to be EMTs. The first three to gain this rating were Louis Mildrum, Geoff Kinch and then Barbara Kinch.
Some were called on to be drivers: Sid Winakor, who drove the state police ambulance in Colchester and Jim Orr, an East Haddam neighbor, who with his wife Dot also took the advanced first aid training required for the initial year of operation. Other drivers that first year included Bud Lahm, Tom Maly, Carl Malachowski, Phil Bliss and First Selectman Yeomans himself.
The first run made by the Ambulance was a motorcycle accident which occurred in front of the Orr House on the Lyme/East Haddam border. Jim and Dot heard the crash and were crew members on that very first run.
Today we are fueled by the same volunteer spirit that inspired our early members more than 38 years ago. And we are funded by the generosity of our fellow citizens who recognize the unique value of a no-fee Emergency Ambulance and First Responder resource that is entirely self supporting. In other words, we are able to provide a critically important service without adding to our residents’ tax burden. We remain committed to ensuring the safety and security of our town’s citizenry no matter what the emergency.
Lyme Ambulance Association timeline: