Keeper of Oak Hill honored

Deb Carrico

Throughout the year, numerous awards are presented for acting, writing, sports performances and other achievements.

Often we wonder, “How’d they make that choice?”

But the selection of Deb Carrico for the 2020 Wessel Pistor Award at Oak Hill Senior Living & Rehabilitation in Waterloo was definitely without questions or uncertainty.  

The award dates back some 25 years and is named for two former residents of Monroe County Nursing Home, which was located where the Waterloo fire station sits now. It is an award that identifies the most outstanding employee involved with caring for residents and working with fellow staff.  

Oak Hill Administrator Brian Koontz told the Republic-Times that Carrico was and remains assigned to housekeeping duties on the hall that was designated as Oak Hill’s COVID unit for residents testing positive.

“When we asked her if she would remain on duty there, she had no hesitation,” Koontz said. “‘Of course I will. That’s my hall,’ she replied.” 

Koontz said the selection process for this award makes it unique.

Residents, family members and staff can nominate someone they think shows the most exemplary caring and respect for those who live and work at Oak Hill. A nominating form is reviewed, and the reason proposed persons are chosen are summarized and assembled in a voting form – without names.  And then the residents vote and the choice is theirs alone.  

The absence of names in important. 

“This is not a popularity contest,” Koontz said, adding, “nor is it a choice by the company.”  

“I was completely blindsided when I was called to come up to the front office and learned I had been chosen for this award” Carrico said. “I was shocked,” and she paused before adding, “I was honored and humbled.”

The award consists of a certificate that will be a fond memory on Carrico’s wall at her Columbia home, as well as a financial reward.

Asked for background that prepared her for her job at Oak Hill, Carrico listed jobs ranging from being a switchboard operator with Southwestern Bell Telephone to jobs including 18 years as a bartender at the Cahokia VFW Hall. 

As for prior housekeeping experience, Carrico replied, “I had none. My previous job had dried up and I was not ready to retire yet.  So,” she said with a smile, “Oak Hill was kind enough to hire me.” 

The small-town Arkansas native acknowledged she had lifelong experience keeping a house clean, “But this is on a whole bigger scale,” she said.

Koontz said she has told him she feels less as a housekeeper and more of a “…keeper of the house.”  

“She exemplifies the great importance she gives to her interaction with residents and fellow staff,” he added.

Asked what she considers the most important part of her daily duties, Carrico said “it’s taking care of our residents.” 

When asked about the most difficult part of this year at Oak Hill,  she said “it’s been the COVID.”

“The six weeks the COVID unit specifically was locked down were both challenging as we made changes to our daily work and heartbreaking as we lost 15 of our residents to the virus.  You get attached to each of them and losing even one is like losing part of your family,” she said.

Carrico continues to work on “her wing” as the COVID virus continues to wreck the country and world.

“I just want to treat our residents the way I’d want my grandma to be treated.  It’s important to me,” Carrico said. “If you truly like what you do, it’s not work.” 

And when you look at what Carrico does for the people she shows so much care for, she’s not the only winner of this year’s Wessel Pistor Award.  All those she cares for and works with are winners, too. 

There are no questions about that.

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Alan Dooley

Alan is a photojournalist -- he both shoots pictures and writes for the R-T. A 31-year Navy vet, he has lived worldwide, but with his wife Sherry, calls a rambling house south of Waterloo home. Alan counts astronomy as a hobby and is fascinated by just about everything scientific.
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