I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Paul Ernenwein

Celebrating the diversity and dynamism of his home town

local father paul ernenwein
Newburgh native Paul Ernenwein (center) has always loved the inner-city and its diversity. He has always had ties to Newburgh and loves the connection his daughters have to it now.

Paul Ernenwein keeps a clear moment front and center in his mind when all the elements of his life as a parent, a professional, a keen community volunteer, a chair on the board of the annual Newburgh Illuminated festival, and a fourth generation native of Newburgh came together.

"I was at Newburgh Illuminated with my family and we were enjoying the day in the heart of our city," he says of the annual day-long celebration of the diversity and dynamism of Newburgh through music, art, dance, poetry, food, and more. "I remembered, then and there, how extremely challenged the area was in the 1970s, but also how my grandparents and parents had a business here. And now my kids and their friends get to spend the day amidst all of it, having fun."

Returning to his roots
His 17-year-old daughter Isabel is getting ready to head off to the University of Delaware next year and his daughter Emily, 15, is a sophomore interested in athletics. Ernenwein attended the same Newburgh public schools where his daughters go now. He went on to college in Albany, political work in New York City, law school in Massachusetts, and then got his first job working for the Bronx district attorney's office. He met his wife, Hyun Chin Kim, and settled into a Manhattan apartment. They moved back to Newburgh to raise their family.

Once Ernenwein returned to his roots, he began working for the Newburgh-based law firm Catania, Mahon, Milligram & Rider, PLLC. He has been there for 17 years now and has become a partner. When he came back to Newburgh, he immediately got involved in his community's civic life. He is constantly aware of how much his home town has changed over the years and was committed to being a part of it. "I got asked on to various boards and my wife, who is also a lawyer, took up the slack when it came to our family. Plus, I had my parents deeply involved."

He served on boards for the Greater Hudson Valley Family Health Center, the Orange County Citizens Foundation, Orange Valley View Local Development Corporation, The Elant Foundation, Cub's Place, The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks; Newburgh 247, The Newburgh Historical Society and the Children's Country Day School. When Newburgh Mayor Judy Kennedy inaugurated the second year of her Newburgh Illuminated events, she asked Paul Ernenwein to serve on its board.

"My mother was dying of pancreatic cancer at the time," he says, choking up. "Getting involved in the event felt very meaningful given the family business had been where it takes place, in the heart of the city."

The city drives his life
Ernenwein keeps returning to the decline Newburgh faced when he was young, and how it affected his peers and his life. It's driven much of the direction his life has taken, from the hard-toil political jobs he took to pay his way through college, his decision to go to law school, and the mix of civic volunteer work that's carried him as an adult in his home town.

No wonder Frank Capra's It's A Wonderful Life is a quick reference.
"I love how George Bailey comes to realize how all he's done has value," he says. "For my kids to have pride in this city and even consider returning to live here in the future... it's everything to me."

It's always been about family
When asked what role parenting has played in his complex life, Paul Ernenwein notes how it hasn't been perfect and there have been struggles.

"I happen to be married to an incredible person," he declares. "It's been a blessing to have my parents here. I don't sleep much but I have incredible daughters."

He emphasizes the fact that his family does everything as a unit. Sports events, dinners and regular outings in Newburgh's famous parks are always attended together. They spend time overlooking the Hudson where the grand urban expanse designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux created a park in honor of their mentor, Andrew Jackson Downing, in the center of this once and still noble river city.

"Family and home," Ernenwein concludes. "It's what it's always been about for me."

Paul Smart is a father who writes for a variety of publications in the Hudson Valley.

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