To celebrate National Travel and Tourism Week, the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism hosted an awards luncheon May 11 to honor six individuals for their dedication to the local tourism industry.
“Whether through direct customer service or behind-the-scenes organizing and management, there are countless tourism partners who work hard to ensure visitors have a positive experience in Owatonna,” stated Katie Godfrey, director of conventions and tourism at the chamber. “In Steele County alone, there are more than 1,500 tourism-related jobs and direct traveler spending generates $4.5 million dollars in sales tax.”
After soliciting nominations from the community, the chamber recognized the following individuals:
Jerry Ganfield was first elected to the Steele County Historical Society board in November of 1998 and has served as a volunteer both on and off the board since then. He has worked on many maintenance projects in the Village, chairing moves and the restoration of 3 buildings, and chaired the building committee for the History Center completed in 2012. Jerry says, “I most enjoy sharing with visitors during the summer tours the development and history of Steele County and learning of visitors’ own experiences, just as I had previously enjoyed being a tour group escort to the National Parks and European destinations for 12 years.”
His nominator wrote, “If you need to know something about Owatonna or Steele County history, Jerry is an expert. If you look up the definition of ‘volunteer’ it fits the person that Jerry is: a person who gives willingly of himself to take part in a task, to take freely of his time and talents. Jerry is a wonderful asset to tourism in Owatonna.”
When asked how many years she has been working in the local tourism industry, Vicki Lysne, General Manager at Comfort Inn, said, “When I started I had no idea how long I would do this. My youngest was starting kindergarten at the time, and he left for college three years ago.”
Her nominator wrote, “Vicki gives great customer service for the hotel, has a strong passion for serving guests and also strives to show them what a wonderful community and city this place is, with many options for parks, trails, events, the downtown shops, and more. With service like hers, it keeps guests coming and staying at Comfort Inn time and time again. She has great knowledge and skills, and puts in endless hours with a determination to help Owatonna grow.”
When it comes to excellence in customer service, Vicki noted that she and her staff at Comfort Inn were recently honored with the distinctive ‘Gold Award’, representing the top 10% of the brand from Choice Hotels International. She explains that that recognition, along with this award, is because of a team that is dedicated to a “commitment to excellence”.
james “Corky” ebeling
Corky Ebeling has worked for the Owatonna Parks & Recreation Department for 39 years and 8 months.
His nominator wrote, “He has been a great asset to the tourism industry in Owatonna. He encourages the staff at Parks and Recreation to implement new events throughout the year. Since he has become the director there have been many new events added, including the Trick or Treat Trail which had an estimated attendance of 4,000 people last year, Movies in the Park, the Munchkin Market, and much more. Corky is always looking for new ways to bring visitors to Owatonna.”
Corky says, “I enjoy observing people, especially families, smiling & enjoying themselves at Parks and Recreation events which are all made possible through the dedicated & outstanding staff in the department who organize, manage, work, and maintain, all of our special events, programs, facilities, parks & trails.” He accepts this award on behalf of the entire department.
Jack Spitzack is the President/CEO of Lasson Management and Chief Manager/Owner of Baymont Inn & Suites-Owatonna. He has been involved with Owatonna tourism for 25 years, since the opening of “AmericInn Motel & Suites”, now Baymont Inn & Suites-Owatonna.
His nominator wrote, “Jack has a passion for the hospitality business and providing a premier property in the Owatonna area. Those who work with him on a daily basis appreciate his commitment to providing an excellent property that continues to be productive and successful. Jack brings a positive aspect to everything he does. He is a man that knows no boundaries and embraces life. Jack continues to provide management and staff of the Baymont Hotel & Suites with the motto of “adhere and prosper”. Not be driven just by profit, but by human values that recognize talent, so the hotel and Lasson Management will continue to prosper within the community of Owatonna.”
Jack says, “My favorite part of the lodging hospitality industry in Owatonna is the business venture, real estate operation and, of course, delivering what our guests want and need during their stay in Owatonna. This is a people business, and people helping people adjust, find their way and complete their goals while in our community is very fulfilling. The activity and excitement, as well as simply providing shelter and a good night’s sleep. The people we serve provide an amazing array of attitudes, values and experiences. While our interaction with most of the folks is not for an extended time, it is always meaningful. The successful people in the hospitality business have an “itch that needs scratching”, and giving good hospitality to the folks is a great way to satisfy that itch. Working with staff members who deliver this hospitality are a great joy to me, too. It’s fun.”
Nancy Morness has worked as a waitress at the Kernel Restaurant for 37 years.
Her nominator wrote, “The Kernel Restaurant is a go to spot for comfort food and attracts many patrons from out of town for their great food and tremendous service. The servers at the Kernel Restaurant are the perfect definition of Minnesota Nice. After 37 years working as a waitress at the Kernel, Nancy Morness is a huge part of the successes and great service that the Kernel has come to be so well known for. Nancy is the definition of a day’s hard work. She runs all day long serving a full restaurant, and she does it all with a smile on her face as she knows customer service is important. To top it off she returns home and extends the same positive service to her family every chance she gets. Nancy is a giver to all ends and she surprises people every day with how much good hard work can do to get this done.”
Nancy says one of her favorite memories from the Kernel was when a couple stopped there for breakfast. She says, “I wasn’t the waitress waiting on them, but they overheard that it was my birthday. The man went out to his car and brought in his accordion and started playing Happy Birthday to me. They also gave me some of their favorite homemade beef jerky and a set of steak knives. I was so amazed at their random act of kindness. You just never know who you’re going to meet. There are so many great people that I have met over the years; not only the ones you may only see once but also the ones that come in every day. You know them by name and what’s happening in their lives. It seems like we’re all just one big family.”
Tom Brick has run Owatonna Shoe for more than 45 years.
His nominator writes, “Over the years, Tom has invested countless hours of personal time and business resources, and brought people together to collaborate on how to get more people into Owatonna and shopping in Owatonna. He continues to take community and retail needs upon himself by walking door to door, initiating connections with business owners, and sharing his many years of experience with others: modeling what it truly means to be part of the business community.”
Tom says, “I always tried to treat patrons the way I would like to be treated. I am constantly telling people about Owatonna and its many qualities. We work hard at having fun, and business just happens!” He also notes that he is the third generation “Brick” to dedicate his life to Downtown Owatonna.