Beehive Assisted Living's Terri Onn is recognized with a statewide leadership award for service

Following is the text from a letter sent by Forest Grove Beehive Assisted Living Community's Kathleen Leatham to the Oregon Health Care Association, nominating office manager Terri Onn for her award. Onn was chosen as the association's Employee of the Year earlier this month.

By Webster's definition, a 'leader' guides the way. He or she directs the activity, leads things toward a definite result and takes the initiative.

The word 'award' pertains not just to something that is won, but also earned.

Terri Onn personifies the purest meaning of this leadership award.

Onn, who works as office manager at Forest Grove Beehive Assisted Living, arrived as a volunteer. New to the area (she lives in Forest Grove with her husband, Steve), she missed her old home and friends.

In typical Terri fashion, she chose to turn her feelings of loss into an activity of service to someone else.

She focused her energies on the daily lives of Beehive residents. Before long, it became apparent that Terri was a gift to the residents, although she felt the gift was from them to her.

She became the activity director, working just a few hours a week and volunteering the other hours needed to give what she felt the residents required.

As often happens, the more that was asked, the more she offered. When the position of office manager became vacant, Terri was asked to take her talents from career in banking, combine them with her current bond with the residents and become office manager.

She has held that position since 2000.

All the really excellent people who choose long term care as a career share certain values and characteristics. They are patient, loving, compassionate, respectful and kind. While she certainly brings all these characteristics to her position, it is the intangible part of Terri's heart that sets her apart.

Intangibles are often difficult to describe, but they're necessary in this business.

There is a joy in Terri. She arrives in the morning and has a word or touch for each resident she sees - and she makes sure she sees many of them before sitting down at her desk. When she opens up the windows of the reception area, it is as though the building heaves a sigh of relief and says, 'ahhh … she's back! The day can begin!'

As surely as every day comes, so do the residents to Terri's desk. Many simply want a moment to say hello and to share how their day is going. Many others bring insurance papers that are confusing, bills they don't understand, concerns about doctor visits and transportation, a report about something they misplaced, a hurt feeling, an injured foot or a sad heart.

Terri treats each situation as an individual moment for which there is unlimited time and patience. No resident's need is too small or too big. If something requires the aid of a caregiver, the registered nurse or the administrator, Terri gently guides the person to the right staff member - and always checks back to make sure the issue was addressed.

At 3:30 in the afternoon, when the mailman has come and gone, those who no longer have the vision to read their mail come to Terri. With a voice that conveys the letter's message in the spirit it was written, Terri shares this most private time with each of them.

If they wish to write a response, Terri picks out just the perfect card from the box and takes dictation. The Christmas season finds Terri in resident apartments writing greeting cards that otherwise wouldn't get sent. For one resident - a lovely man from Austria who had lost much of his family during World War II - Terri was his link to friends long left behind in Europe.

She would correspond with them for the resident by e-mail, and the resident would delight when the response came so quickly. When his memory no longer allowed him to remember his homeland and his friends, Terri maintained the correspondence, knowing that there were people who cared and needed to know how their friend was doing.

With that same loving regard, Terri shares her granddaughter with a woman who is in hospice, knowing that the happy child is the best medicine - and that the child will learn from the woman's graceful spirit.

Although my position as administrator makes me Terri's supervisor, I prefer to think that we work with each other. She anticipates my needs and, when I might overlook a task or forget a resident request, Terri is a gentle reminder - always making it seem as though I had remembered on my own.

She is my partner in so many daily tasks and long-term goals. She is as respectful to each staff person as she is to me, showing her sincerity and regard for all staff. When I am gone from the building, I always know that things will go well and issues with staff or residents will be handled competently. Terri gives a tour that says 'welcome home' in the warmest possible terms, and every resident who moves in can remember what it meant when they met Terri.

She laughs a lot. A conversation that begins on a sad and lonely afternoon ends with shared laughter and a warmly held hand. Quick laughter and a shining smile greet all of us, and we are enriched beyond measure.

When Terri became seriously ill this spring, her absence created a hole that simply couldn't be filled by anyone, so the staff and residents filled it with our prayers and hopes that she would be well and come back.

And come back she did - just two weeks after a long, hard surgery - with a different flowing scarf every day around her neck to cover a scar, an attitude of gratitude and a warm greeting for the friends who had missed her so. We had gotten together and decided to nominate Terri for this award prior to her illness. When she came back, and we realized one more time what a remarkable difference she makes, we knew that, in our eyes at least, she had already won.

Theresa 'Terri' Onn is the face of the Beehive. She is the comfort and assurance when one first walks in our doors that the passage a prospective resident is about to make will be lovely - and Terri will be there to make sure that it is.

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