June 13, 2012 - Every Tuesday like clockwork, a group of smiling Rotarians files into the banquet room at Oxford Hills Golf & Country Club to listen to a fascinating speaker, sing songs, share good news and a joke or two, and enjoy lunch together.
Lorna (Ledbetter) Lester, restaurant manager/banquet coordinator for Oxford Hills Golf & Country Club, was presented with the G.E. Meads Award, the highest honor the Rotary Club of Oxford can bestow to a non-member. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
It all happens so naturally, so flawlessly.
That's because of one person – Lorna (Ledbetter) Lester, the restaurant manager/banquet coordinator at Oxford Hills.
"I've taken care of them for 25 years," she said. "I've known them so long, they're like family."
Much like a great conductor leading his orchestra during a symphony, Lester ensures every note of each Rotary meeting is absolutely perfect, from the seating arrangements to the delicious food to the professional staff that tends to everyone's needs.
"She's almost like one of us," said Greg Kudela, two-time past president of the Rotary Club of Oxford. "She does our scheduling. She makes sure that we're fed. She waits on our tables. She even fixes buffet plates for some of our members who don't get around as well as they used to.
"She does it quietly, behind the scenes, with the same (selfless) spirit that we try to foster."
Rotarian Jim Sherman, Sr. noted Lester's handled more than 1,300 club meetings during her tenure at Oxford Hills.
For her tireless efforts, the Rotary Club of Oxford last week presented Lester with the coveted G.E. Meads Award.
"I was so dumbfounded," she said.
Established in 2000, the G.E. Meads Award is presented to a non-Rotarian who exemplifies the club's motto "Service Above Self" by making significant contributions to the community.
"Lorna embodies that spirit," Kudela explained. "She is so dedicated to being the face of not only Oxford Hills, but this community. People from outside the Oxford area come there and one of the first people they meet is her. She makes people feel welcome and she does it in sort of a selfless, understated way."
"She's not flashy, but she's efficient. She truly cares about what she does and it shows in the way that she takes care of her customers and in the way she takes care of her people."
Past G.E. Meads Award recipients include Mildred Schmidt, Dianne Offer, Duane Salswedel, Ian Smith, Gary Lepak, Helen Smith and Tim Davidson.
"It was very humbling," Lester said. "It's hard to explain."
The award is named for the late Dr. G.E. Meads, a local dentist who helped charter Oxford's Rotary Club back in 1937 and served as its first president.
It was Oxford Hills founder, the late John Hubbard, who invited the Rotarians to meet at his establishment, which he operated with his wife, the late Virginia Hubbard, for many years.
"It was something Mr. Hubbard started and it will continue until Oxford Hills is no longer here," Lester said. "It's definitely not a money-maker for us. It's about community service. Rotary does a lot of great things."
In addition to helping coordinate the weekly Rotary meetings, Lester also helps organize the annual Christmas party the club puts on every December for approximately 200 area senior citizens.
When asked if she's ever thought about joining the Rotary Club, Lester quipped, "There's no need – I'm always there."
Although it seems like Lester's been in Oxford forever, she was actually born in Detroit, graduated from Romeo High School and took hotel management courses at Oakland University. She worked at the Great Oaks dining room before being hired as a waitress at Oxford Hills in 1987.
Over the years, Lester worked her way up the ladder and now, she's in charge of everything food and beverage related that's served to Oxford Hill's guests and golfers.
"It's not like a regular restaurant because you're taking care of the same people all the time," she said. "Ninety percent of them are on (golf) leagues. They're here week after week. I can tell you what 99 percent of them drink."
"If you think about it, Oxford Hills is sort of like the community center," Kudela noted. "It's a place that everybody in this community has some contact with."
Lester has no plans to leave Oxford Hills and is extremely grateful to the Hubbard family for the opportunities they've given her and the trust they've placed in her.
"If it wasn't for Mr. and Mrs. Hubbard, none of this would be here," she said. "They were really great people. I miss them."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.