Great Smoky Mountains National Park salutes employee of the year

Chicago family receives tourism honor
May. 07, 2013 @ 11:11 PM

Great Smoky Mountains National Park staff, as well as area officials and administrators, gathered at the park's headquarters Monday morning to honor Heather Wood as 2012 Park Employee of the Year.

"It is an honor and a privilege to be selected as Employee of the Year," Wood said to the crowd, which included several past recipients of the award, now in its 30th year.

Wood works as an administrative support assistant for the park's resource and visitor protection division.

"Our administrative assistants play a critical role throughout the park," Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson said. "Many of the times, that is behind the scenes. You don't always see them out in front, but that support is appreciated by everyone and provides the ability for our staff to be properly trained for the travel they do, equipment they need – and of course, they make sure we get paid. We appreciate that and all those duties very much."

Clayton Jordan, chief of the resource and visitor protection division, elaborated on Wood's character and what she means to the park.

"(Wood) has a reputation for not only being the subject-matter expert in a wide assortment of budgetary and other administrative processes, but also for her willingness to assist any employee within any division at any time," Jordan said. "Every day she demonstrates a positive attitude towards her work and coworkers, and possesses a strong work ethic. The phrase 'not my job' is simply not in Heather's vocabulary."

Wood said she was raised on values of hard work and placing the needs of others before your own.

"To be recognized for something that comes naturally and that I enjoy doing seems unnecessary, but I am grateful," Wood said.

In the past year, Wood actually chose to move down the payroll, from administrative assistant to the chief, to a part-time position providing administrative support for the Tennessee district ranger operation. She made the decision in order to spend more time with her family, but Jordan said she still went beyond what was expected of her.

"On top of her new duties, Heather has worked side-by-side with a new administrative assistant to the chief ranger's office, training her to assume a complex array of responsibilities," Jordan said. "At the same time, she has worked tirelessly to help transition the division to a new and very different accounting system developed by the Department of the Interior."

Wood explained that the key to her success is understanding the big picture.

"As an administrative support assistant, my primary job is to support others and to aid them in getting their jobs accomplished," Wood said. "I enjoy my job, and enjoying your job makes all the difference in the attitude that you have."

For winning the award, Wood received a monetary award from Friends of the Smokies, as well as an engraved clock, a gift basket and two paintings courtesy of the local communities.

Ditmanson also recognized the four other employees who were nominated for the award: Emily Darling, who works in the park's Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center; Kenneth Parton, a maintenance mechanic in the park's facility management division; Carlos Trevino, lead information technology specialist; and Imelda Wegworth, landscape architect in the park's division of emergency management.

Also honored at the ceremony were the Hockenberrys of Chicago. They were named 2013 Tourist Family of the Year.

Les and Margie Hockenberry and their children, John and Vivian, were selected after they entered Sugarlands Visitor Center.

"Now that's being in the right place at the right time," said Jimbo Whaley, who served as emcee.

Ditmanson said he was pleased the family accepted the honor: "I'm not sure how I would receive that if I walked into the Sugarlands Visitor Center."

The Hockenberry family is no stranger to the outdoors. John, 6, has completed several junior ranger programs in various other national parks.

Vivian, 2, took her first steps in the Smokies last year. For that, "the Smokies will always have a special place in our heart," Les said.

Les is a medical director at a Christian health center that serves about 23,000 patients.

"Those days can be long and tiring, and this chance to come to the national park and rest and renew, I can't tell you how grateful we are," Les said. "... We appreciate the National Park Service so much, and the mission and the opportunity that it serves."

As part of the ceremony, the family received a gift basket from officials of local communities.

Said Ditmanson, "We do have a wonderful relationship with our communities at the gateways that support the park."

rhargett@themountainpress.com