The Kansas Department of Commerce and the Older Worker Task Force hosted the 17th annual Older Worker Awards ceremony in Topeka on Thursday. Seven individuals, three businesses and two Older Kansans Employment Program (OKEP) providers were recognized for their contributions to the Kansas workforce and economy at the ceremony, which was held at the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.
“Older workers are playing an increasingly critical role in our economy,” said Kansas Commerce Secretary Pat George. “These workers possess a wealth of experience and dedication, which is extremely valuable to their employers. It is important to honor the older workers who help make Kansas a better place to live and work, as well as the employers who foster positive work environments for older workers.”
The honorees recognized at the awards ceremony were selected from an applicant pool that included workers age 55 and older employed in both public and private sector jobs, as well as businesses and companies that regularly employ workers age 55 and older.
The 2014 Older Worker Awards winners follow:
Kansas Oldest Worker
Robert Oleen, Dwight – Mr. Oleen was born in Falun in 1918. At the age of eight, he lost his leg in a farming accident. Overcoming the challenges posed by this tragedy, Mr. Oleen washed dishes in restaurants and hotels in Hays and Wichita to work his way through college, and graduated from the Wichita Business College in 1937. Later that year, he started his banking career at Farmers State Bank in Dwight, initially working as a teller and janitor. Nine years later, he was put in charge of the bank and maintained that position until 1971, when his son Jan took the reins.
Mr. Oleen currently works 30 hours per week at the bank and can always be found in his office by 8 a.m., including Saturday. He continues to ardently study bond and stock markets.
Outstanding Older Worker
Patricia Nichols, Alton; awarded posthumously – Ms. Nichols was born in Salida, Colo. in 1942. She worked much of her life and at the age of 65, chose to seek new employment rather than retire. She began working at Nex-Tech Wireless in Hays and became lead of customer care. In addition to her work, she participated in community fundraisers, events, contests and community theater among many other activities.
Ms. Nichols demonstrated outstanding commitment and dedication to her work and her community. She passed away on March 20.
Exemplary Older Worker
Lloyd Craig, Winfield – Lloyd Craig has contributed to the success of the Winfield Publishing Company for nearly 55 years, consistently displaying professional integrity and a positive attitude. He was hired in 1959 as circulation director, and quickly assumed the post of advertising manager, which he held until 2001. He then was promoted to general manager, overseeing operations at the company’s three locations, Winfield, Arkansas City and Newkirk, Okla. In 2009, Mr. Craig was promoted to publisher of the Courier. He turned 81 in February.
Born on a farm east of New Salem, Lloyd graduated from Kansas State University in 1956 with a degree in industrial arts. He served active duty in the United States Air Force for four years and became a captain. He married his high school sweetheart, Shirley, in 1957, and has three daughters.
Exemplary Older Worker
Nancy Gleason, Frankfort – Nancy Gleason has worked for First National Bank in Frankfort for 32 years. She currently serves as head teller. At work, she provides excellent and friendly service to customers, utilizing her experience and knowledge. In addition, Ms. Gleason is an active EMT and is the treasurer of the City of Frankfort. She is a past member of both the Frankfort Community Care Home and the school board, and she seldom misses a school event.
Ms. Gleason was born in Abilene in 1942 and later moved to Soldier with her parents. She graduated from Soldier High School in 1960, attended K-State for one year and met her husband and married in 1961. They have four daughters.
Exemplary Older Worker
Virginia Smith, Kensington – Virginia Smith was born in Parsons in 1946. She graduated from Labette County High School in 1964 and then went to visit family for the summer in Kensington. She applied for a summer job in Phillipsburg and was called the next morning to come to work. She has worked for Midwest Energy since that day.
Ms. Smith started her career with Midwest Energy as a keypunch operator, receiving IBM punch cards from area service districts and converting them to accurate customer bills, prepared with a manual typewriter and carbon paper. After being promoted to secretary for the regional director, she learned new computer skills including word processing and email. In 1992, Ms. Smith was promoted to scheduler for gas service technicians, a job which included preparing records for Kansas Corporation Commission filings. In the late 1990’s, she wanted to work again with customers, and transitioned into her current position as customer service representative, where she is lauded by her coworkers for her excellent service.
Outstanding Employer of the Older Worker
Reno County Historical Society: Strataca – Strataca is the Kansas Underground Salt Museum, an attraction that is 650 feet below ground in an active salt mine and is part of the Reno County Historical Society. Approximately 50,000 visitors tour the mine each year.
Strataca has an excellent record of promoting, recruiting and retaining older workers. Of the 36 staff, 27 are older workers, including most of the organization’s leadership. The museum offers flexible work hours and provides staff training that reflects the strengths and interests of each employee. Strataca’s commitment to older workers is also important to its young employees who witness the work ethic and energy of their older counterparts as they work together.
Outstanding Local Workforce Investment Board
Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas – Among Local Workforce Investment Boards, the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas served the greatest percentage of older Kansas workers and devoted the greatest amount of resources to serving older workers last year. All of the Workforce Alliance employees, their partners and board members worked together to achieve this honor.
Outstanding Senior Community Service Employment Program Host Site
Wichita Indochinese Center, Mohan Kambampati, director – The Wichita Indochinese Center was founded in 1985 as a non-profit corporation to assist refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The Center has exemplified consistent and extraordinary service to the Senior Community Service Employment Program and to the community by striving to create opportunities for all who are struggling with barriers. The Center provides support for many older workers including English language instruction and training classes.
Outstanding Older Kansans Employment Program (OKEP) Participant
Sharon Revell, Wichita – Sharon Revell was recognized for her participation in OKEP. She is a 79 year old resident of Wichita who has worked most of her adult life. After graduating from Wichita North High School and attending art school in Indiana, she worked at Hallmark Cards. Ms. Revell subsequently moved to Wichita, where she worked for the Wichita Children’s Home until retiring in 1999. When she needed to return to work, she used the OKEP program to take advantage of job leads, practice her job-seeking skills and obtain a position with Spay and Neuter of Kansas. In her current position, her coworkers praise her customer service and dedication. Ms. Revell has two children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, all of whom live in Wichita.
Outstanding Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) Participant
Ralph Urbano, Wichita – Ralph Urbano was recognized for his participation in SCSEP. Mr. Urbano has taken advantage of the opportunity to work and learn at the Wichita Indochinese Center, utilizing their job training placement and developing skills to help him overcome the challenges of visual impairment.
Older Kansans Employment Programs Awards of Excellence:
North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging, Manhattan – North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging exceeded its performance measures for the 2012-2013 funding year and was recognized for outstanding performance.
Senior Services, Inc. of Wichita – Senior Services Inc. of Wichita exceeded its performance measures for the 2012-2013 funding year and was recognized for outstanding performance.