Tags: Featured Feature story, Geneva Lake West
May 14, 2013 | 02:25 PMFONTANA — It's rare to meet someone who influences a huge lifestyle change. It's rarer often to speak with three of those influential powerhouses on the same day.
May 1, the Geneva Lake West Chamber of Commerce announced the winners of its 39th annual Citizen of the Year award.
Three winners are chosen, one from each community on the west end of the lake — Williams Bay, Fontana and Walworth.
Jacob Ries, chairman of the chamber's award committee, said they received so many worthy nominations for the award.
"It was hard to limit it to just three," Ries said. "It's good to know that we have so many caring and giving individuals in our community."
Charlie Mestek didn't really want to share the news of his award with everyone.
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The Williams Bay teacher said he was honored and grateful, but he didn't want to make a big deal out of it.
"I just feel very fortunate to be surrounded by supportive staff and great kids," he said. "I'm grateful that I get to be a part of this school system and the community."
While he walks through the hallways at the school, he signals a timeout to the students he approaches and asks them all the same question.
"Who are you?"
First, they said their names. Mestek asked again.
"Who are you really?"
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Then students share their stories. One student was on the baseball team. One student acted in school plays.
Mestek said he urges his students — and they're all his students — to join extracurricular clubs at school.
"It gets them invested in this place, more than academics," he said.
Mestek is involved with every extracurricular event, too.
"I try to go to all the games, the dances, the concerts, the plays," he said. "I like all the students, and I hope they say the same thing about me."
With the bond he has with the students, Mestek is changing the way they learn and live.
He was influential in bringing the Operation Click program to the high school. The program has willing students sign a contract that they will not text while driving, will always wear their seat belts and will not drive after drinking alcohol.
Students who sign and stay out of trouble for the year are eligible to win a car.
Mestek said he's had numerous students come back to the school after graduation to thank him, and many students send him mementos of their successes in life.
"Their success in life is an award in itself," he said. "It's what makes this worth it."
Mestek has taught in Williams Bay for 10 years and 35 years prior in Illinois schools. He's the at-risk coordinator for the junior and senior high school, and he works with students in core subjects like English, math and history.
Cherie Ackman got advance notice about her recognition.
"I've been in California for part of the winter," she said during a phone interview May 2. "My girlfriend called me last week to tell me ... they didn't want me to be completely surprised."
After she accepted her award, Ackman started crying.
"They wanted me to say a few words, so they thought it would be nice to have time to think about what I wanted to say," she said. "I was very surprised to get the award. I don't do any of the volunteer work to get awards. I was completely overwhelmed, really taken aback." Ackman is active in many charity groups, and she even started a local chapter of Dining for Women.
"I started the chapter in Fontana," she said. "I called a few friends and asked what they thought ... I think our first meeting we might have had five women. That was about two and a half years ago. Since then we've met almost every month. We've had as little as five and as many as fourteen or fifteen women."
The women gather for a potluck dinner and donate the money saved from dining out at a restaurant to a specific charity each month.
"The chapter does seem to keep growing," Ackman said. "If I forget to set up a meeting, my girlfriends are calling me to ask when we're getting together."
Her volunteer and charity work goes back many years. Ackman said it was easy to be involved when her children were younger and still in school.
"I did a lot when the kids were little," she said. "It was just kind of fun being involved in school ... when they get out of school, you have to work harder at finding things that suit you and best fit the needs of the community."
Ackman is on the board of directors with VIP Services Inc. and is "always doing something."
"I hope that I"m setting an example for my children," she said. "We're in a small community, and the opportunity does come up to do a lot of volunteer work."
Joyce Pagel invited some of her friends to the award ceremony May 1.
"I don't know if it was supposed to be a surprise or not," she said. "My friend Trudy (Schubert) told me. She's the one that nominated me."
Pagel was surprised that she won, even more so after she heard the other award recipients.
"I don't feel like I do that much," Pagel said. "Those other winners ... they do a whole lot more than I do."
Pagel has been active in local government for many years.
"I was the co-chairman for the 175th anniversary celebration for the village of Walworth," she said. "We worked all summer on that."
She has also been on the village plan commission since 1976.
"I don't know if that's why I was nominated," Pagel said. "It's not really volunteer work. Over the years, though, I've done a lot of different things."
Pagel is active in her church, Immanuel United Church of Christ in Walworth, and she was active in the schools while her children were younger.
"We do a lot of different fundraisers (at the church)," she said. "I do the flagging for the triathatlons, and we do a cream puff sale. We drive the people-mover at the county fair."
Pagel said she volunteers wherever there is a need.
"I guess I just pitch in whenever someone needs me," she said. "I like helping people and doing things. You meet a lot of great people."
Currently, Pagel works part time as the administrative assistant at the Linn Police Department, and she was a secretary for the church for 10 years.
"I ring the bells in our hand bell choir," she said. "I like it. It's fun. We've had it for years in our church, and they were looking for new ringers. I thought I'd try it, and I've been doing it ever since."