Bernard "Bernie" Paumier has received the inaugural Naomi Andres Service Award from the Fairfield County Literacy Council.

Paumier has been volunteering since the early 1970s to help non-English speakers learn the language and prepare to become U.S. citizens.

In the 1980s, he extended his service to tutoring English to people from countries spanning from Mexico to Pakistan who came to Ohio in the pursuit of the American dream.

Paumier often has worked with people for three hours a week at the Pickerington Public Library, and the Fairfield County Literacy Council honored him June 28 by naming him the first recipient of its award.

"How wonderful that Bernie is being celebrated with this award," said Colleen Bauman, community relations coordinator at the Pickerington Public Library.

"Bernie has been a longtime patron and former library volunteer with a passion for literacy," she said.

"He is truly dedicated to sharing his love of reading. He has helped students and adults and more recently our (English as a second language) community."

The award honors the late Naomi Andres for her dedication to reading and adult learning. She founded the Lancaster Literacy Council in 1971,.

Andres and her friend, Connie Gerken, also were credited with bringing trainers to the community to enable volunteers to work with hundreds of adults.

Ten years later, the Fairfield County District Library received a federal grant to promote literacy and the two groups formed the Fairfield County Literacy Council.

"Bernie Paumier went above and beyond with his tutoring several ESL adult students to help them prepare becoming U. S. Citizens," said Janet Warner, Fairfield County Literacy Council president. "He acquired a good attorney for advice.

"In 2012 when the Fairfield County Literacy Council celebrated our 40th anniversary, Bernie lamented the high cost to take the citizenship test was a problem for many," she said.

"As a result, (the Rev.) Steve Rauch had the Fairfield County Ministerial Association donate funds to help three of Bernie's students pay for the test. Bernie also went to our local state representative at the time to ask about getting the test fee reduced."

Paumier, who will turn 89 this month, is a U.S. Air Force veteran and farmer.

He also taught elementary school in the Northern Local School District in Perry County for 20 years.

"I got involved in the Literacy Council with people who couldn't read and write," Paumier said. "Then, English as a second language came up.

"When I was in the military, I spent time in Puerto Rico and I learned Spanish. So, I decided I would try to help some of these people who were trying to become U.S. citizens."

Paumier isn't sure how many people he's tutored over the years, but he's tried to help anyone who's come to him.

That includes Spanish speakers who heard about his tutoring through his church, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Pickerington, which for years has advertised his services.

He's also had a few students from Pakistan and Indian.

"They speak Urdu and, luckily, the (Pickerington) library had a children's book on learning Urdu," he said. "I got that and I got so I could learn the basic words."

Paumier also volunteers as Secret Santa, collecting children's letters to Santa and replying, and he writes two to three letters a week to people at area nursing homes.

"I thought when I retired from teaching that I'd do some writing, but that never came about," Paumier said.

"About 10-15 years ago, I went to a meeting and a social worker from a nursing home said you'd be surprised how many ... people just get dropped off and never get visited.

"So, I still do write to about 10 people."

Through the Fairfield County Literacy Council, Paumier has been part of a program that has trained 475 tutors to provide one-on-one reading skills assistance to some 625 adults over the past 45 years.

All services and materials are free.

Private donations currently support council.

Paumier was reluctant to receive the Naomi Andres Service Award, saying, "The real award goes to the students." He said he has formed friendships with many of his students, and all have shown tremendous gratitude for helping them become U.S. citizens.

Additionally, Paumier said he believes barriers to citizenship, such as a more than $600 fee to take the qualifying test and restrictions against people who came to the U.S. illegally, should be removed.

"They should do away with the cost for the test," he said. "I would also think that if somebody has been here for five years and has no criminal record, they should be able to take the test."

To request a tutor or to become a volunteer, contact the Fairfield County Literacy Council at its Fairfield County District Library office 740-653-2745, Ext. 109.