*TC Howard County Detective John Hall's encounter with a gun-toting burglary suspect helped him earn two prestigious awards last night -- Police Officer of the Year and a silver star for general excellence at his job.
Detective Hall was one of 28 county employees who won awards for excellence on the job in 1993. They were honored during the county Chamber of Commerce's fourth annual community awards banquet at the Turf Valley Country Club in Ellicott City.
More than 540 people attended the event to applaud honorees who included educators, firefighters, state troopers and members of the sheriff's department.
Organizers said the certificates and wooden plaques given to the those honored were only tokens of appreciation for their efforts.
"These people went above and beyond what they got a paycheck to do," said Don Wood, a regional executive for Maryland National and NationsBank and chairman of the awards committee.
A 12-member chamber committee reviewed nominations from the supervisors of most of those honored. A separate committee considered the awards for educators, who were nominated by students, parents and education officials.
Most award winners were notified of their selection by mail in the past two months.
But the Educator of the Year award was kept secret until last night. The winner was Joanne Ferguson, an assistant principal at Pointer's Run Elementary School, who was selected over seven other candidates.
Students who wrote nominating letters for Ms. Ferguson cited her caring and compassionate nature.
"She treats the kids more grown-up," wrote one student.
"She's sort of like a guidance counselor, or a second mom, or aunt," wrote another.
Detective Hall said he was surprised that he was honored. The nine-year veteran said he had never imagined winning the Police Officer of the Year award when he joined the department.
"When I first saw the list [of previous recipients], I never thought I'd be on it," Detective Hall said.
The department honored him earlier this year for his work, which included solving a long string of residential burglaries.
Last May, in another burglary case, a suspect from Baltimore who was high on crack cocaine pointed a 380-Magnum handgun at Detective Hall and his partner, former Detective Joseph A. Geibler. The officers talked him into surrendering the weapon.
"Locking up a burglar and getting people's property back for them gives you a feeling of satisfaction," said Detective Hall. "It makes the long hours and calls in the middle of the night worth it."
Others honored last night included: David J. Heck, Deputy of the Year; Tfc. Ricardo Zaky, State Trooper of the Year; Detective Patrick H. McDonald, Detective Hall and Mr. Geibler, silver star awards for excellence; Sgt. David Fisher, Career Fire Fighter of the Year; and Ralph Inger, Volunteer Fire Fighter of the Year.
Outstanding Educator awards were give to Ms. Ferguson; Debbie Miller of Running Brook Elementary; Kathie Smith of Northfield Elementary; Suzie Keelan of Saint John's Elementary; Linda Wise and Carol Elder, of Howard High; Roger Plunkett of Hammond High; and Lynda P. Ellestad of Glenelg Country.
"Without a doubt they've touched people's lives," Mr. Wood said of the winners. "But there are other unsung heroes out there who didn't get awards."