As part of their end-of-the-year festivities, the Monticello school district honors one staff member from each building, bestowing them with the Outstanding Service Award at their annual banquet.
The awards have a tradition of being kept secret from the recipient, and then revealed on stage in humorous and unique ways.
This year’s winners are: Buzz Geyen (high school), Marilyn Vetsch (high school), Marie LaPlant (middle school), Joe Nelson (Little Mountain) and Sharon Stoik (Pinewood).
The district staff also honored the Khauv family, which owns Monticello’s Chin Yuen restaurant and the Best Western Chelsea Inn and Suites, as this year’s Friends of Education recipient. Here’s a look at the winners.
Buzz Geyen, High School
Geyen has been working at the high school for three years now, but his tenure in the school district goes well beyond that: he has worked in the district for 20 years as a custodian and he has worked at each of the district’s schools in that time. Besides his custodian job Geyen has helped out in other areas, such as his time dressing up as the lovable Q Bear for kindergarten students.
He said the best thing about working for the school district is the staff and the kids he comes into contact with each day. He also appreciates working in the same community as he lives in.
“It’s the people that make it happen,” he said. “It’s the people you work with and the people you work for: that’s what’s good about it.”
Marilyn Vetsch, High School
Vetsch has her hands in many different school projects and tasks throughout her 32 years of work as a paraprofessional for the district. She started working at the middle school but has spent most of her career working in the high school’s counseling office. She also logged eight years as an English and social studies teacher before starting her time doing office work for the counselors. Throughout it all, she said her favorite part of the job always comes back to the kids.
“They’re so kind, polite and appreciative of everything you do,” she said.
Vetsch’s co-workers praised her caring heart, dedication, multi-tasking abilities and her crafting skills in her award presentation. Vetsch, though, was surprised and honored to be the one awarded the Outstanding Service Award.
“You do these things because you enjoy it, you don’t expect recognition,” she said. “The kids feel good when you do things for them… and it makes you feel good.”
Marie LaPlant, Middle School
LaPlant spent the first 15 years of her career in Monticello schools as a traveling employee, teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) students and helping them gain their footing in English and find success in their mainstream classes. There were about 30 students in need of her services throughout the entire district when she began 18 years ago; now, she said there are about that many in each school. Because of that, three years ago she was given a position at the middle school only, where she works with 6-8 students.
“I miss all of the age ranges, but in the middle is where I feel I can be very effective,” LaPlant said. “The staff is a collaborative staff and it just felt like a good fit for me.”
LaPlant does lessons with her ESL students on the English language itself, but she also works with the students’ content teachers (science, social studies, etc.) to find ways to help them succeed in all their classes. She said the best part of her job is helping her students grow and blossom as they progress through the ESL program and being able to send them off to high school with confidence.
Joe Nelson, Little Mountain
A former iron range miner, Joe Nelson moved to the Monticello 24 years ago to carve a new path as a school custodian, and he’s been an irreplaceable part of the team ever since. Nelson currently works at Little Mountain, where he said it’s fun to see a new bunch of kids come through every year.
“They’re fun to work with – it’s something different every day,” he said about the students.
Nelson humorously notes that all of the little mishaps that happen at school are “job security” for him: building locker cubbies on his own time and at his own expense when space got short, and repairing all the things that naturally need fixing with elementary students at play. He said it was completely unexpected and surprising that he would win the Outstanding Service Award this year – but a good surprise at that.
Sharon Stoik, Pinewood
Stoik has spent her whole 23-year tenure with the district at Pinewood, teaching mostly grade 3 but also grades 1 and 2. She said the best part of her job is the team she works with.
“Our job is very social and the fact that we have such a cohesive team of hardworking teachers … makes the job so enjoyable,” she said.
Her fellow staff members threw their support right back at her during the awards presentation, calling her caring, diligent, positive and patient with her students, among other good qualities.
And how did she feel about winning the Outstanding Service Award for Pinewood? “Humbled, honored, and all those wonderful feelings,” she said. “I feel like everyone on my team deserves a pat on back and the recognition.”
Friend of Education: Khauv Family
Though not district staff, Marianna and Onn Khauv of Monticello (who owns Monticello’s Best Western Chelsea Inn and Suites and the restaurant Chin Yuen) were honored at the banquet with the Friends of Education Award, along with Best Western’s manager Perry Sloneker, the hotel staff and the Khauv grandmother, Grandma Lydia Wang. These people have been actively involved in the district’s Connect 5 program for students with special needs for over a decade, providing a site for vocational training, social gathering and personal growth of the program’s students. The Khauv family has also helped Connect 5 students become more active and involved with community events, organizations and businesses. The situation is a win-win: students come in to get firsthand work opportunities as part of their program; they also use the hotel’s pool for water therapy class and yoga. For their part, the hotel receives help with their light housekeeping and other duties.
“We are excited it has come this far throughout the years,” said Marianna Khauv. “Those kids are special, unique, and we try to help them and strengthen them.”
In fact, Khauv said she and her family feel a shared experience with these special needs students. Khauv and her husband are from two different Asian counties, Onn from a war-town Cambodia and Marianna from Taiwan, and they came into the community with different life circumstances than most. To flourish, Khauv said both they and these Connect 5 students just needed some extra support to get their footing and make their way.