In our last issue, QT profiled John Ferney who had just stepped down from his volunteer role as president of the Quechee Lakes Landowners Association (QLLA). Now it’s his wife, Gail’s, turn, described by her colleagues as “a special, giving person,” she is that and much more.
Admiring the artwork at the Ferney home, I found out that some of it was created by their daughter-in-law, some by a son and some is Gail’s work. I thought, “WOW – this is a talented lady!” I knew she was a great organizer, but wasn’t aware that she was a painter. Gail minimizes her artistic talent, but I loved her watercolors. Gail is a member of the Tuesday art group in Quechee. Sylvia Dolan, a group member, describes Gail’s art as “incredibly genuine. It’s the feeling, the caring, the love that really comes through. It is a reflection of Gail’s brightness.” The meticulousness in her art carries into her life. Sylvia relates a story when on a trip to an art show in Rutland. Gail drove and parking was tight. Gail parallel parked in this really tiny space – “one turn and she was in. It was amazing.”
In 2001, after 13 years as second homeowners, the Ferneys moved to Quechee full-time. They spend their time with family – three sons and five grandchildren – as often as possible and are both actively involved in supporting the community. Gail stays very busy with her volunteer work – QLLA Charities and the Quechee library – and with her artistic pursuits.
Gail is president of Quechee Lakes Landowners Association (QLLA) Charities; a role about which she is passionate. QLLA Charities decided many years ago that the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHAD) would be the beneficiary of all funds raised by the CHAD Classic golf tournament. In 2003, the CHAD Gala was added to generate additional funds for CHAD programs. This year marked the 30th year of the Classic and at this point, QLLA Charities has contributed $2 million to support CHAD. Gail and Sharin Luti, another active Quechee resident, co-chair these fundraisers; Gail runs the Classic and Sharin the Gala but they work closely together. “Basically, she’s a rock. Everything she does, she does well. I couldn’t have a better partner,” says Luti. Several years ago, the CHAD Classic was cancelled – as teams were ready to tee off – because of weather. Gail just “took it on” with her calm competence; it was rescheduled to a later date with satisfied customers, ended up with more teams and more funds for CHAD.
After Tropical Storm Irene, QLLA Charities formed a service arm to help coordinate volunteers to aid in the recovery. Under Gail’s strong leadership, the service arm has expanded to include assistance with HAVEN food drives, the Quechee Music Festival (whose proceeds benefited WISE in Lebanon in 2014) and the Holiday Baskets for Hartford residents in need.
Gail is the “Girl Friday” at the Quechee Library. In addition to her regular Friday desk hours, Gail visits Aurora Day Care in Wilder each month with 12 children’s books. She reads to the pre-schoolers, leaves the books and then returns in a month with 12 more. Gail describes the library as a “little gem; an amazing resource for the community.” According to Kate Schaal, the library director, “People are cheered and helped by Gail. She is inventive, witty, intelligent and generous…and a wordsmith…such a valuable member of the Quechee Library in all ways.”
The Ferneys met at Boston College and married after her sophomore year. She graduated from Providence College with a BA in English in 1980 – three sons and fourteen years later. Gail says she “always wanted to write.” When the boys were young, she started to write Little League reports for the local newspaper, the Westford Eagle, in Westford, MA. The editor asked if she would like to “do a little more” writing and then she was offered the job of assistant editor. The next week, the editor had to take an unexpected leave and Gail had to put out a newspaper in her absence. She described this time as “trial by fire,” learning not only how to write headlines, but mastering a new computer system as well. The paper earned a “Newspaper of the Year” award during her time there, which Gail says was “really cool.” She loved doing human interest stories (not hard news, please) and recalls a favorite story of a local florist who had the opportunity to work on a float for the Rose Bowl Parade – pretty cool, too! She continued to write until the family moved to Kansas for John’s job where Gail did some feature writing for the Wichita Eagle in Kansas.
When she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in 1998, Gail stopped writing. Without the use of her left side, it was very difficult to type. Now she LOVES her touch-screen I-Pad , which allows her to work with her right hand only.
“I am lucky that the MS only affects my left side, however, in the beginning dealing with it was really depressing. Is this going to last the rest of my life? How long will that be? Will I ever have fun again? The unknown can be frightening, no one really has the answers … and it’s very easy to be self-conscious about your physical limitations,” she says. Hesitant to move forward with a family trip to Disney World in 2000, she had an ‘aha’ moment. “MS isn’t holding me back.” she realized. “My mind, my self-perception, my vanity is holding me back!” It was time to “get over it, deal with it and get on with life.” The family made the trip – with the added advantage that the wheelchair rented to help Gail navigate Disney got them to the front of the lines!
Gail learned quickly “to forget about what you can’t do and focus on what you can. I can volunteer at the library, read to daycare kids, organize fundraisers, paint and make simple quilts. I can fold laundry (sometimes with the help of my teeth) and hit buttons on a slot machine. Sometimes cutting round fruit is a challenge, but with enough time, it gets done!” With her I-Pad, she writes.
Gail’s advice to anyone with a disability and to all of us as we age: “Don’t let vanity hold you back – use aids if they make life easier. Whether it’s a hearing aid, cane, or a walker. “ She wears an ankle/foot orthotic and says “Maybe I can’t wear cute shoes anymore, but I can get around! “ She reminds us to stay positive, have patience, be adaptable, enjoy every day and give back however you can.