By Terry Houston, PP Emerita
(originally published in @Law – Winter 2012-13)
When I offered to prepare this article about the 2012 NALS Award of Excellence recipient, I expected to need hours of interview time with the candidate to expand my limited knowledge of her background. I need not have worried about that. All I had to do was take one look at the social media postings that followed the announcement and let the NALS members guide me. Here is what they had to say.
Now NALS knows what we here in Arkansas have always known: Cheryl is a winner!
Meet Cheryl Summerhill, PLS, of Searcy, Arkansas, the 2012 NALS Award of Excellence recipient. The role of the legal assistant has evolved over the years, and we have all heard about how “back in the day” the legal secretary “did it all.” Well, in Cheryl Summerhill’s world, “doing it all” is still the order of the day.
As the sole assistant to a solo practitioner, she is secretary, paralegal, bookkeeper, office administrator, and trusted confidante. When the workday is over, she is wife, mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, friend, mentor . . . all rolled into one neat package. She exemplifies the highest standard of loyalty, something you cannot help but appreciate when you look at her list of employers in the past 37 years: two. Her current employer, John Patterson, Esq., had this to say about Cheryl:
In my view, what you, as the NALS Award of Excellence Committee, are looking for when you go through the process of choosing the winner of this award, is the best overall individual—the best “package”—the person who looks like a professional, talks like a professional, acts like a professional, and can be counted on to always represent herself and the Association in the best light possible. I found all those qualities when I hired Cheryl Summerhill over 26 years ago.
How does she do it all? According to Mr. Patterson, by applying “organizational skills and sharp intellect.”
Cheryl joined NALS 26 years ago at the suggestion of her employer. She served as Recording Secretary that first year and repeated the commitment during her second year. Since then, Cheryl has held 138 elected or appointed positions in her local chapter alone! These include Recording Secretary (six terms), Chapter President (three terms), and so many committee positions that I had to count them twice to be sure I was reading the list correctly. She has been voted White County LSA’s Legal Secretary of the Year twice, in 1988 and 1996, and received the Arkansas state AALS Award of Excellence in 1998. Cheryl was recognized by her local community in 2003 with the Best of the Best Readers’ Choice Award for Best Secretary in a competition sponsored by her local newspaper, Searcy’s The Daily Citizen.
With, as she says, her camera as a permanent appendage to her body, Cheryl keeps her local newspaper supplied with photos of chapter events, writes articles to accompany the photos, and prepares chapter history books. You will see Cheryl and her camera in action at the 2013 NALS Professional Development Conference as she records the installation of Doris Compton, PP, PLS, the first NALS president from Arkansas.
Over the years, Cheryl has been instrumental in promoting and implementing fresh, creative projects to encourage members to get involved. Her “secret pal” program helped members get to know each other and fostered camaraderie. She created a Charity and Compassion Committee to help the chapter become more involved in their local community, supporting holiday food and gift drives, and assisting needy families by providing school supplies and other necessities of everyday life. One notable activity of that committee was the “adoption” of a needy child who would otherwise have been overlooked by traditional giving groups because of confidentiality considerations. Her motto, that she continually quotes from former WCLSP member Kathy Good, PLS (deceased): “We get chapter achievement points for that.”
Cheryl has been a featured speaker at local, state, and national meetings, on every subject from certification to grammar and promoting a professional attitude. Who can forget her styling of fellow Arkansan Doris Compton, PP, PLS, for the 2009 Foundation Gala at the NALS National Forum in Irvine, California! After choosing the persona of comedienne Phyllis Diller, Cheryl supplied a gown, gloves, feathers, cigarette holder, and lots of freezing hairspray to completely transform our beloved Doris. (By the way, all that hair was real!)
Cheryl has been a driving force in AALS for years.
The list of Cheryl’s accomplishments at the state level is just as impressive as her record of participating at the local level. Beginning with her membership on the President’s Handbook Committee in 1991, Cheryl has been an integral part of 36 committees and elected or appointed positions serving AALS-the association for Arkansas legal support professionals. Her contributions include State Director (six terms from 1991 through 2007), State President 2011-2012, Executive Secretary, Parliamentarian, Historian, and service on just about every other committee. While serving each of her four terms as Historian, she “insisted on involvement” from each of the seven Arkansas chapters, collecting pages from every chapter on their local activities. Cheryl attended every state function during those years, taking photographs, collecting memorabilia, and creating huge (usually more than 100 pages) unforgettable gifts that were presented to the outgoing presidents. The collections covered every activity of the year, on both state and chapter levels. During the first of her three terms as Public Relations Director, Cheryl created a “Chapter Chatter” section for the newsletter, covering chapter activities and events, listing contact details for chapter officers and committee chairs, to provide a useful link among the chapters that encourages member involvement. Never relaxing her “do it all” attitude, Cheryl made time to keep her technological skills up to date to make the transition from yesterday’s print editions carry forward to today’s digital online environment.
Upon receiving her PLS certification in 1993, Cheryl was the featured speaker at the AALS Recognition Luncheon. The effect was best described by Doris Compton in her letter of recommendation for Cheryl’s Award of Excellence nomination:
She lit up the room when she shared her vision of commitment to and passion for obtaining certification, literally opening her arms and inviting others to join her in achieving a higher level of professionalism. This past year, she once again shared her vision of greatness for her term as state president. Cheryl’s life-long commitment to NALS and her promise of strengthening relationships and teamwork resonated throughout her speech, enabling us to visualize the unending opportunities and possibilities awaiting us. Afterward, we realized how her vision and words made each of us want to stand up and yell, “I’m on board–count me in!”
Cheryl continues to maintain that level of commitment, having earned the NALS Continuing Legal Education Award five times since 1991.
You represent our region with such grace and professionalism.
At the region level, Cheryl made her presence known at every opportunity. She chaired the 2004 Region 6 Committee and chose a member from every chapter in the state association to join her in presenting a successful conference, often traveling several hundred miles across the state to host planning meetings accessible to all the members. She met with hotel and catering staffs, even sampling meal choices to ensure a pleasing experience for participants. Cheryl worked closely with that year’s Region 6 Director Julie Abernathy, PP, PLS, for guidance through the entire process. After their first meeting on the telephone, she and Julie developed a friendship bond that continues to this day. Cheryl even won the NALS Foundation incentive prize that year for selling the most chances for the Foundation grand prize.
Cheryl is often called the cheerleader of her chapter. She is the “go-to” person that other chapters call on to get something started and a mediator in times of conflict and crisis. With one exception, she is the most seasoned member of her chapter and in her own words “cheers, pushes, intimidates, encourages, and reassures” the other members so that the chapter can, and does, prosper.
Love me some Cheryl.
Cheryl’s extended circle of family and friends is never left out of her sphere of influence. Together with Wayne, her husband of 37 years, Cheryl raised two fine children. Her daughter is a wife, a mother of two, and an elementary school teacher in their hometown of Searcy. Her son is a husband, also a father of two, and an officer in the U.S. Army. She is very involved in her friends’ lives and is supportive of them in the ups and downs of daily living. When a volunteer is needed at her church, in her secretary groups, or for a civic function, Cheryl is routinely there to help. In short, Cheryl is a “people person” who loves life and energizes those around her.
P.S. Your suit is fabulous!
For the 2001 AALS leadership retreat, Cheryl created a presentation on professionalism and how dressing professionally can influence your image. She arrived on stage dressed as Perry Mason’s classic secretary, Della Street, and described what was expected of secretaries like Della during that era. She expounded by demonstrating that styles of clothing had changed throughout the years and how Julia Roberts’ portrayal of Erin Brockovich in the movie by the same name changed the image of the legal profession by taking off her Della Street costume, which was very conservative and consisted of a long skirt, jacket, hat, etc., and transforming herself into Erin with spike heels, short spandex skirt, and tank top. The presentation concluded with Cheryl’s donning of a business suit on top of the “Erin” costume to depict a modern professional image.
Cheryl continues to demonstrate the epitome of professionalism and style. Just look at the handsome portrait taken during the 2012 Recognition Luncheon at the NALS National Forum in Portland, Oregon. Noting her enthusiasm and commitment, members continually tell Cheryl that they “want what she has.” Her advice is to make the commitment to themselves and not only will they improve their legal knowledge but also their perspectives of themselves. The Personal Data Form that Cheryl submitted in support of her nomination contains a wealth of insight into her unique style and uninhibited enthusiasm, not to mention a score of ideas that can be adapted to any chapter’s activity needs. Do not hesitate to ask her to share a copy–it will fire up your enthusiasm too.
Our hats are off to you, Cheryl. You have set the bar high and your leadership by example encourages all of us. Thank you for being a part of the NALS family and sharing your life with us.
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