SYCAMORE – Bob Hammon talked about the day in 1971 that he met Kathy Countryman. At the time, Hammon was a school administrator in Iowa and had to switch jobs for a day to “see how the other half lives.” He was assigned to a fifth-grade class.
“In that class, was a cute little blonde girl who was a holy terror,” he said of Countryman. “I referred to her as the Energizer Bunny on steroids. I asked ‘who is she?’”
Countryman, who is now superintendent of Sycamore School District 427, received the Clifford Danielson Outstanding Citizen Award at the 104th annual Sycamore's Chamber of Commerce luncheon at St. Mary's Memorial Hall in Sycamore.
Countryman thanked the chamber for the award during her speech. Countryman said to the crowd when she found out she won the award, she scanned the list of 33 names of award winners that preceded her.
"There's no way my name belongs there," she said to the crowd of more than 300 people. "But the more I thought about it, I thought my name's on the program, not because of me but because of all of you and all of the great opportunities I've had in Sycamore."
The award recognizes individuals who receive the highest levels of accomplishment in their chosen field, said RoseMarie Treml, executive director of the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce.
Treml said Countryman is a woman who truly defines leadership.
"She is an innovative and brilliant teambuilder," Treml said. "She is a passionate and dynamic collaborator. But most importantly, she is Sycamore's champion."
Countryman wasn't the only one recognized Thursday.
Family Service Agency won the Outstanding Business of the Year Award. Treml said Tynisha Clegg, acting executive director and director of operations at the agency, is outstanding.
"She's so passionate about our county and what she does," Treml said. "Her staff loves her. Her team loves her ... What the Family Service Agency does is above and beyond."
Paul and John Schwartz, the two brothers who started PJ's Courthouse Tavern that sits opposite the DeKalb County Courthouse, were happy to be at the luncheon. They won the Spirit of Small Business award for showing community spirit and pride in Sycamore.
"It's just a huge honor," Paul said. "It made the efforts well worth it over the years. It's nice to be recognized."
The two men opened the tavern in 1994 after a successful 13 years running the sandwich shop – PJ's Red Hots – in DeKalb.
"It's very humbling," John said. "We couldn't have done it without the community support."
Treml said the tavern is a "hidden giant," because of its success and its philanthropy in the community.
The Discover Diamond Award went to the Sycamore Park District this year. Treml said the choice was "obviously a no brainer," noting the projects along Airport Road in recent years.
"It takes leadership, especially from the board, for things like that to happen," she said
Treml said another award Thursday, the Chamber Champion, surprised Vaughn Kirshner, who accepted the award on behalf of Waste Management.
"I called Vaughn Kirshner," she said. "I've worked with him for 18 years. I called him and told him he was getting an award and there was dead silence on the phone. I even said 'Are you there?'"
She said Kirshner said his type of business doesn't usually get awards because it's not glamorous.
"I can't tell you how much they do for us," she said. "They are outstanding and his people are outstanding."