Conservation Department workers take two of four Awards

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo (MDC) - Connecting Missourians to the outdoors and to information and providing exceptional personal service has won eight employees of the Missouri Department of Conservation statewide awards

The Office of Administration's Division of Personnel annually sponsors the Awards of Distinction Program to recognize state employee achievements. This year's theme was, "There's MOre in Missouri - Excellence in Public Service." Gov. Jay Nixon presented the awards at the State Capitol May 27.

The Public Service Award is given for outstanding dedication to the advancement of state service that enhances the quality of life to citizens far and above the employee's normal job requirements. This year's winners were the staff of Andy Dalton Shooting Range and Outdoor Education Center at Bois D'Arc Conservation Area.

In presenting the award, Gov. Nixon said that Outdoor Education Center Supervisor Mike Brooks and his staff - Charles Estep, Dan Vanderhoef, Keith DeBow, Andy Rhodes, David Crews and Ali Underwood - have taken public service to an unbelievable level over the past five years. He said the group's service to visitors with disabilities has been especially noteworthy.

In partnership with the Southwest Center for Independent Living and the National Wild Turkey Federation, Brooks and his staff created a "Day at the Range" event that has become a national leader in connecting or reconnecting people with disabilities with the outdoors. In the past five years, the program has helped 742 people with disabilities take part in traditional outdoor activities that some thought they would never enjoy again. Other participants had never before tried fishing, archery or shooting air guns and rifles.

Sonja Harden received the Human Relations Award for her work as a public service assistant at the Conservation Department's Northeast Regional Office in Kirksville. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to enhancing the quality and morale of the workplace, or creating a better public image of state government. Her job as the face and voice of conservation in northeast Missouri involves fielding questions about every imaginable aspect of hunting, fishing, other outdoor activities, conservation areas and nature.

Questions about the intricacies of hunting and fishing regulations are particularly challenging, and during the hunting season the phone seems to ring nonstop. Harden answers every question with a cheerful voice and gives every caller and visitor her undivided attention and patience. She greets walk-in visitors with the same positive attitude and makes a point of remembering the names of frequent visitors.

The conservation workers were among 32 nominees for the four awards statewide. The Conservation Department honorees also were honored with a reception during the May meeting of the Missouri Conservation Commission.