Bonnie Morris, left, of The Mendota Reporter presents the Gold Star Award to Lori Simonton at the annual Chamber dinner, Nov. 8. In the other photo, Jim and Darla Cocanour receive an award from Bonnie Morris of The Mendota Reporter, right, on behalf of their daughter, the late Sarah Dalton. Dalton was nominated for this year’s Tom Merwin Award. (Reporter photos by Jennifer Sommer)
MENDOTA – This year’s Tom Merwin Gold Star Employee Award was announced at the Mendota Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner on Nov. 8. Nominated by the general public, this award is given to someone in Mendota who is considered to be an outstanding employee.
This year, two awards were presented. First, Sarah Dalton, a long-time employee at Goslin’s Drug Store who passed away in April was honored. She was described as dedicated and compassionate. Her parents, Jim and Darla Cocanour, accepted the award on her behalf.
Second, Lori Simonton, a teller at First State Bank, was also announced as this year’s recipient. Simonton said she knew Dalton well and it was an honor to share the award with her.
Simonton also said she was shocked and overwhelmed to win the award herself.
She recalled thinking she needed to tell some of the nominees congratulations on being nominated. Little did she know, her name was going to be called next.
As Alison Wasmer, Mendota Chamber executive director, read the nomination letter, Simonton put down her glass. “I knew she was talking about me and I couldn’t believe it,” she recalled.
After that, she said she did not recall anything else that was said about her. If she had, she would know that she was thought of as professional, efficient, and friendly – one of the nicest people you will ever meet. She was said to have outstanding customer service and professional courtesy, exemplifying what the Tom Merwin Gold Star Award represents.
“It is a great place to work,” she said of First State Bank.
“They treat their people well and do a lot for their employees. I have never even thought about going anywhere else.”
Simonton is a long-time Mendotan. “I love Mendota,” she added.
She went to Northbrook School and graduated from Mendota High School. While in high school she started working at First State Bank. Thirty-four years later, she is still working there. “I have had chances to advance, but I was always happy doing that type of work,” she said.
Simonton says she does not know why she was nominated. “Maybe it’s because I’ve done my job for so long,” she commented.
But perhaps it is her friendly and humble demeanor that earned her the accolades.
When asked what else she does, she replied, “Oh, nothing.” But in fact, Simonton is an avid volunteer. She volunteers with the Red Cross Bloodmobile, delivers Meals on Wheels, works at the hospital gift shop and is involved with the MHS Booster Club.
“I am lucky that I only work part-time and I can volunteer, too. I hope there is never a time I am not needed. I like working with people,” she said.
Involved in the community, it was nothing out of the ordinary to attend the Chamber’s annual dinner. But getting the award was.
Her family and friends appeared for the presentation. “I didn’t even notice them until I walked up for the award. That was a big surprise!”
Everyone congratulated her and told her she was deserving of the award.
“I don’t really feel like that, but it’s nice to know people think that of you,” she said.