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For the past 50 years, the Gold Hammer Award has honored Lenawee County students for their skills and dedication in learning building trades and residential construction. Four student candidates are nominated by their peers in the Residential Construction program and approved by their instructors. Each candidate then interviews with representatives from local businesses, including MEC, who select the winner.

This year’s honor go to Julie Tokarz, LISD Tech Center senior, for her outstanding dedication to her trade and studies. “I’ve been helping my dad on construction projects since I was about 3 or 4. My brother and I were my dad’s assistants; we’d hand him tools as we learned what he was doing. I’ve been in love with it ever since,” said Tokarz.

As part of her program, she and her classmates rehabbed a house for Habitat for Humanity of Lenawee County. “This project really opened my eyes to other people’s situations and taught me not to be selfish,” noted Tokarz. She hopes to complete an internship with Habitat this summer heading to the U.P. to major in construction management and minor in business management at North Michigan University in Marquette.

What makes the Gold Hammer Award special is the impact it can have in the lives of the winners: it can launch careers and transform lives. Just ask Harold Schadewald Jr., MEC consumer for over 20 years, who won the award in 1978. ”That award got me first job. In fact, my boss left the position vacant for a little while just so he could hire the winner. Then it landed me two jobs after that, which gave me the skills and experience to start my own business that I have owned since 1978,” he noted.

He remains heavily involved in the Gold Hammer program today, showing Tech Center students the ropes and serving on the committee to select the winner. He even presents the award to the winner during the annual banquet in the spring. When asked about what he looks for in a winning nominee, he stated, “I look for a student with a strong work ethic and dedication but most importantly, I want someone who feels it [building trades] in his or her heart. The winner has to have the passion and the desire to go into the industry. To me my job is not just a pay check, it defines me as a person. I want our winners to feel the same and Julie really emulated that this year.”

When asked about what he looks for in a winning nominee, he stated, “I look for a student with a strong work ethic and dedication but most importantly, I want someone who feels it [building trades] in his or her heart. The winner has to have the passion and the desire to go into the industry. To me my job is not just a paycheck; it defines me as a person. I want our winners to feel the same and Julie really emulated that this year.”