On Our 20th Anniversary – Profiles of Our Founders: Sylvia Erber


Twenty years ago, four women, members of a Red Hook Library book group—Sylvia Erber, Sara Hardman, Carol Lee, and Josette Lee—agreed that the area needed affordable high-quality education for seniors. The Marist College Center for Life Time Study had a years-long waiting list. There were no nearby alternatives. Sylvia wanted more. Carol Lee recalls her saying “You girls are young, you can do it. . . why when I was your age. . .” or something to that effect. We sat up in our chairs, stunned. Oh, we knew Sylvia’s passion for books, current events, and her opinions. . . but pounding the table? She wasn’t taking NO for an answer, and you have Sylvia to thank for LLI. She was the grain of sand that initiated this pearl.

Over the next few newsletters, as we celebrate LLI’s 20th anniversary, you will learn how the Bard LLI came into being, and something about the women who founded it.

Photo by Anastasiia Rozumna on Unsplash
Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

The Spark

Sylvia Erber, the spark, convened the group that did the work to create the organization. Sadly, her ill health kept her from as much participation once LLI got underway. On LLI’s 10th anniversary, Carol Lee noted in the newsletter, “Sylvia is the lifeblood of LLI. You may not see her, but she is here.”

A Lifetime of Activism

Sylvia moved to Red Hook in the 1990’s after retiring from a lifetime of activism ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union, environmental issues, the civil rights movement to her consuming interest in her later years—the needs of senior citizens. Upon moving to Red Hook, Sylvia immediately became involved with the Red Hook Library, joining the afternoon book discussion group and circulating a petition asking for more library services. She founded the Friends of Red Hook Library to help fund and support those new services. Sylvia was determined that seniors should have access to a full intellectual life. As Carol Lee put it, “Sylvia Erber was my first friend in Red Hook. Nearly 30 years my senior, she and I lunched, laughed, and grieved the loss of the cultural centers we had left behind: she from Columbia, Maryland, I from NYC.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

A Thirst for Knowledge

All her friends describe her as an avid reader and largely self-educated. (The demands of work and political activism had forced her to give up her night school classes.) As Sara Hardman says, “She had read everything and had an opinion about it. . . She was warm, with a beautiful smile and a good sense of humor. When you talked, she listened.” Sylvia passed away in 2008 after a series of illnesses.

Each of the founders worked hard to bring LLI into being. You will be reading more in upcoming newsletters.