St. Charles principal receives ‘Patriotic Employer’ award
Conley was nominated by teacher currently serving in Kuwait
St. Charles High School Principal Rick Conley was on bus duty Tuesday when he received an unexpected request on his walkie talkie to head inside to the school’s auditorium.
Dozens of faculty and staff, none of whom knew what was going on, conversed with each other as they sat and waited for retired U.S. Air Force Major Warren Johnson to begin a surprise ceremony for Conley. Moments later, Conley popped up from his seat near the front row with a big smile, walkie talkie still in hand, after Johnson called on him to receive the Patriotic Employer Award from the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve (ESGR).
“It’s the most coveted award because the Secretary of Defense said you can reach more people that are supporting the [National] Guard and Reserve members,” Johnson, a representative from Maryland’s ESGR committee, said in a separate interview. “This is also an award that is presented by all branches of the military service — what we call the Seven Seals Award [which is the only ESGR award that is presented in recognition of significant individual or organizational
achievement, initiative or support that promotes and supports ESGR’s mission]. We like this award, on behalf of the state committee, because it gives us a chance to get out and meet the employers.”
Johnson informed the group of educators that their colleague, physical education and health teacher Mary Dempsey, nominated Conley for the award in recognition of his support toward employees like Dempsey who contribute to national security and protect others’ freedom by serving their country in the National Guard or Reserve.
“I am a soldier in the Army Reserves and I am currently deployed to Kuwait. I have always had a lot of military obligations to fulfill while teaching here,” Capt. Dempsey said in a letter, which was read aloud by administrative assistant Marquelle Peavy during the surprise ceremony. “I wanted to figure out a way to thank this school for their support and when I heard about the ‘Patriot Award,’ I knew that this school deserved it for how supported I have felt.”
Although Dempsey could not physically be present at the surprise ceremony due to her deployment overseas, she expressed her utmost gratitude to her colleagues and Conley whom she credits for helping ease her sudden transition.
“Last year was kind of a whirlwind of events where I found out, rather suddenly, that I would be able to serve my country as a logistics officer in Kuwait. This commitment that I made did not come without sacrifices that this school had to make along with me. I want to thank everyone for that,” Peavy said as she continued to read Dempsey’s letter. “I’ve never felt as though my military service was an inconvenience or annoyance.”
Dempsey taught physical education and health at St. Charles High School from
August 2015 to January 2018, in addition to leading several lifeguard courses that require specialized training and certification. Dempsey encouraged her colleagues to “keep up the wonderful job of educating the leaders of tomorrow,” and also noted that she will “be back to join” the school system in the near future.
According to ESGR’s website, the Patriot Award is only given to individual supervisors, not an entire staff or organization as a whole. It reflects the efforts made to support citizen warriors through a wide range of measures, including flexible schedules, time off prior to and after deployment, caring for families and granting leaves of absence, if needed.
“We’re not supporting the conflict; we’re supporting the troops,” Johnson said. “People that are left in the [civilian] workforce have to pick up the pieces. Some employers have gone above and beyond the call of duty to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to support you whether you’re on active duty for two weeks, for six weeks or even up to a year.’ And apparently, Capt. Dempsey felt as though Mr. Conley has gone above and beyond to support her while she is deployed. The Maryland state [ESGR] committee felt that she did a wonderful write-up to nominate Mr. Conley and what he’s doing to support her.”
Conley said the Patriot Award is a reflection of the support shown from the entire staff at St. Charles High School. He described Dempsey as a community-oriented individual who is kind and enjoys giving back.
“This award is not about me, as much as I appreciate it,” said Conley as he stood in front of staff members with his award. “[Dempsey] called me down to the gym one day last year and was almost in tears because she found out that she was going to be deployed. She was very nervous about how that was going to impact not only everyone here, but also how it’s going to impact her in terms of being able have a job when she came back from the Middle East.”
“All I really did was get some answers to her questions and put her in touch with the right people to find a way to support her with her exit, and make her feel that her students were going to be well taken care of in her absence,” Conley added. “I just want to add, in her words of thanks, that this award is as much about all of you as it is about me, if not more so [you]. Thank you all for making this day a very special one.”
For more information about ESGR and its employer awards programs, go to https://www. esgr.mil/Employer-Awards/ ESGR-Awards-Programs.
St. Charles High School Principal Rick Conley, left, holds his “Patriotic Employer” award plaque that he received from Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve state committee representative Warren Johnson during a surprise ceremony Tuesday inside the school’s auditorium.
Above, Conley takes a few minutes to speak about Mary Dempsey and thank other staff members while displaying his “Patriotic Employer” award plaque from the Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve. Below, school administrative assistant Marquelle Peavy reads a letter of gratitude from U.S. Army Reserves Capt. Mary Dempsey, a physical education and health teacher who nominated principal Rick Conley for the Patriotic Employer Award in recognition of his support during her deployment overseas. Dempsey left earlier this year to serve in Kuwait as a logistics officer.