Thursday morning, Morris Community High School teacher Barb Rath’s classroom had an interruption that brought her to tears – tears of joy.
Greeted by Principal Kelly Hussey, fellow teacher Craig Ortiz, Morris Daily Herald representatives and Superintendent Pat Halloran, Rath received the news that she was chosen as one of the Morris Daily Herald and Minooka-Channahon Life’s first Women of Distinction.
“Oh my gosh, thank you,” said Rath, as she received a bouquet of flowers and applause from her classroom full of students.
She was nominated by her co-worker, Ortiz.
“Forever, for years to come and years before, you are a woman of distinction,” Hussey said.
Rath was one of 18 nominees received by the MDH for the Women of Distinction Awards.
The awards are given to women who have made a difference in Grundy County and who are role models as leaders in their fields and communities.
A selection committee made up of members of the Grundy County community chose three women for the honor – Rath; Joan Sereno, Grundy Community Volunteer Hospice executive director; and Pam Simpson, owner and director of Pam’s Academy of Dance.
“Every woman nominated for this award has dedicated themselves in some remarkable way to Grundy County,” MDH general manager Bob Wall said. “Narrowing the recipients down to three was a very difficult decision for the committee.
“We are very excited to recognize our first Women of Distinction and hope the community will join us in congratulating them.”
The Women of Distinction Awards luncheon will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Oct. 9 at Chapin’s North, inside the Quality Inn, 200 Gore Road, Morris. The community is encouraged to attend the event to celebrate these three women.
Tickets are $30 and include lunch. Guest speaker Diamond Mayor Terry Kernc will present, and the honorees will make brief remarks.
In addition to presenting-sponsor Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers, major sponsors Exelon Generation and the Greater Joliet Area YMCA have joined the MDH in honoring these women, as have keynote sponsor Aurora University and luncheon sponsors Country Financial Terri Gilmoure, the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce & Industry and the Morris Retail Association.
Rath is a business teacher at Morris Community High School and, according to Ortiz’s nomination, has touched more lives through the years than she can imagine.
She began teaching in Coal City and has been at Morris High School for 35 years. When she retires in 2016, she will have been teaching for 41 years.
“The number of hours Barb devotes to the students of MCHS each year is staggering,” Ortiz said in his nomination letter. “She can be found working at concession stands, selling tickets, chaperoning dances and helping out wherever she is needed.
“She is available before and after school to help students who need assistance. Of course, many students – and several teachers – also turn to her for advice, or just to talk. Her friendly demeanor and sense of humor have endeared her to students and colleagues alike.”
“That’s wonderful,” Sereno said after first covering her mouth in surprise from receiving the news of her recognition as a Woman of Distinction.
“I owe it to the people I take care of. ... When you can stand and hold a hand and give someone a hug and say thank you, that’s worth more than you can make,” she said through tears.
Sereno is one of the Grundy Hospice founders. It stemmed off on its own from the Joliet Hospice 28 years ago.
She has been the executive director for 26 years.
Longtime friend Terri Gilmoure of Sereno, nominated her for the award.
“Joan gives of herself daily at all hours of the night or day. She works tirelessly to help people through the hardest time of their lives,” Gilmoure said on the nomination form. “She’s a pillar of strength, compassion, love, understanding, confidentiality and kindness in our community.
“She is never short of a smile and a hug. She’s the kind of woman we all strive to be.”
“Oh that is so nice. Thank you,” Simpson said when she was told Thursday afternoon. “That’s fun.”
Simpson is the owner and director of Pam’s Academy of Dance in Morris and Channahon.
She immediately hugged her sister, Kim Smith, who nominated Simpson for the award.
“You are a woman of distinction and you deserve it,” Smith said.
In addition to having her business for 20 years, this year she is moving her Morris location to an even bigger space at 1200 Division Street, where she now has four dance rooms, music rooms and a preschool.
Simpson’s sister nominated her not only for her local business, where she has mentored thousands of children, but for her involvement in the community, including We Care of Grundy County, the Grundy County Corn Festival, and, most recently, stepping up to help families who were devastated by the April flood.
“Pam Simpson is a hometown girl who has followed her heart and dreams, and has given so much to her community in the process,” Smith said in her nomination.
“It is absolutely amazing the life skills Pam Simpson has passed on to her students, which is helping them all to choose the right path for them in life. She is – and has been – a wonderful mentor in Grundy County for the past 20 years.”