Members of the Bluff Country Toastmasters Club were presented awards for their achievements, which allowed them to claim the title of top club in the Southern District! In front, Gaye Stockdale receives congratulations from Dillon Denison, with Ed Fontes, Maranda Erig, Paul Leska and Charlotte Wright in the background.  MARY WHALEN/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
Members of the Bluff Country Toastmasters Club were presented awards for their achievements, which allowed them to claim the title of top club in the Southern District! In front, Gaye Stockdale receives congratulations from Dillon Denison, with Ed Fontes, Maranda Erig, Paul Leska and Charlotte Wright in the background. MARY WHALEN/BLUFF COUNTRY READER
Bluff Country Toastmasters has hit the top of the charts having the highest number of awards per member, becoming the "Number One Club in the Southern District."

An evening of celebration was held June 25, and was dedicated to recognizing the present members who have completed personal speech and leadership achievements goals as well as to honor recently deceased members - Lynn Mensink and Bill Sweetser. The club also presented a donation to Diane Sikkink of the Spring Valley Public Library in gratitude for use of the meeting room for its weekly gatherings.

The catalyst behind the top club achievement was Toastmaster Ken Scribner from Rochester. As president of Bluff Country Toastmasters, Scribner inspired this small area club to reach higher than the members thought they could.

He explained that the Bluff Country Toastmasters is the Number One Club in the District, which has 283 paid clubs. The top club designation considered the club's membership base compared to the number of awards those members received. Of the local club's 10 members, 13 awards were received.

The awards were presented to the members during the past year, from July 2012 through June of this year.

Scribner earned five awards through the year, including the advanced communicator bronze, silver and gold awards in July, April and May, respectively. He also earned the competent leader award in April and was named as a Distinguished Toastmaster on May 22.

Maranda Emig of Spring Valley received the competent communicator award on July 10, 2012, and Dillon Denisen of Grand Meadow received the competent leader award on June 12 of this year. Paul Leska of Byron earned two awards, the advanced communicator silver award on May 28, which followed the competent leader award he received on April 11. Charlotte Wright of Greenleafton also received two awards, competent leader on Jan. 15 and advanced communicator silver on May 28. Edward Fontes of Cresco earned the advanced communicator gold award on June 19 and Gaye Stockdale of LeRoy earned the advanced communicator silver award on Sept. 18, 2012.

Members of the Bluff Country Toastmasters Club travel great distances to improve their communication skills and share their personal reasons for belonging to this vibrant group.

Scribner of Rochester joined Toastmasters five years ago and said, "I joined Toastmasters because I wanted to become more self-confident in speaking one-on-one as well as in a larger group. It took some time to be convinced that it would help, but once I took the plunge, I became a Toastmaster junkie."

Scribner moved his membership to Bluff Country because he felt the club members were warm, welcoming and very supportive with a unique flavor. "They made me immediately feel like part of the family and helped me escape the demands of living in a city of 100,000," he added.

Filling the role of president of this area club for the new year is Charlotte Wright. "Toastmasters is a place to learn from each other. We use the manuals. We gain confidence from learning in a small group and then using what we learn in other settings," she said. "Leadership is gained from serving in the different offices. We learn to listen more carefully. I have gained much from being a Toastmaster. I can go into an unknown situation and meet people with more ease. We help others who are experiencing problems to move forward."

Over the years, Wright has seen many people from the area join Bluff Country Toastmasters just for six months or a year or two after gaining an expertise in speaking and listening.

"Each day we communicate with others in the family, workplace, church, getting groceries, and communication can be hard," she added. "Toastmasters helps us to pause and think things through a little more. Besides we make great friends for life and have a fun time!"

Dr. Dillon Denisen, a chiropractor from Grand Meadow, holds the position in the club as vice-president of education and has been a member of Bluff Country since June of 2009. "Toastmasters was recommended to me to help improve my communication skills with my patients and when I would talk to larger groups of people," Denisen explained. "I joined Bluff Country Toastmasters because it was the closest group to Grand Meadow and they are a more relaxed club that is very welcoming. Bluff Country is a small but vibrant club that is very friendly and will help you improve both your communication and leadership skills."

One member who has moved through the Toastmaster ranks is Edward M. Fontes, a school bus driver and NICC instructor from Cresco. Fontes joined Toastmasters in California and was a member there for 23 years before joining Bluff Country Toastmasters 13 years ago. "I joined to gain confidence in communications and public speaking, to learn leadership and for fellowship," Fontes stated.

Paul Leska, who works as a bio medical equipment technician, became a member of Bluff Country Toastmasters because he was impressed with Fontes' presentations.

"I saw Ed compete at an area contest and said to myself that should I ever get a chance to join a club that this man belonged too; I would do it," he added. "I followed up on a challenge to visit other clubs. I did not know of Bluff Country's existence but when I walked in the door and saw Ed, I knew this was a club I just had to join - and I did."

Leska was recently appointed to the position of Area 84 Governor and will work with four clubs, including Bluff Country Toastmasters, which he has been a member of for over a year.

Leska challenges those who find themselves concerned about public or private verbal presentation skills to consider joining Toastmasters.

"If you ever thought of public speaking and wanted an atmosphere to learn more that is safe and comfortable, then Bluff Country is the place to go," he said. "Why? It's friendly, affordable and fun. Affordable in that the dues per year - $72 - are far less than a one-week Carnegie speaking class!"

Maranda Emig of Spring Valley is an employee of Kingsland Public Schools as the technology integration specialist and agrees that Toastmasters has positive effects in peoples' lives.

"I have been a member since February 2011, joining to help me communicate more effectively with people," she said. "This is a very welcoming club that is laid back. A lot of the other groups are really more structured than I like. There is a fellowship and camaraderie that other groups do not have. This friendship and willingness to give constructive criticism is the main reason I stay."

Bluff Country Toastmasters' new Sergeant at Arms, Gaye Stockdale, joined the club in November of 2007 and has offered her talents filling many leadership roles.

As a musician and caregiver, Stockdale finds self-employment the best way for her to pursue venues where her gifts can be shared. "I joined Bluff Country Toastmasters to work on my stage fright, but also to learn better speaking skills, listening skills and a better way to give constructive criticism," Stockdale said.

Stockdale served as the evening's Toastmaster on June 25, greeting the family members of Bill Sweetser and expressing the appreciation Bluff Country Toastmasters has for the membership of their brother.

She commented, "Bill Sweetser joined Bluff Country Toastmasters after Lynn Mensink noticed seeing him at the Spring Valley library. Bill wrote a weekly column for the LeRoy Independent and the Meadow Area News (in Grand Meadow) about farming, the markets and always included several jokes. Bill felt his communication skills needed to improve, although he had experience speaking during high school and was a member of several organizations such as the Bennington Township Board. He also served as chairman for the Rural Fire Association for Bennington Township. Bill had a unique style and brought a great deal of farm market information and a sense of humor."

Denison added to her comments, "Bill was a down-to-earth man who loved farming, writing and telling jokes. When Bill joined our club he was fairly shy but through the years he definitely emerged from under his shell and became very confident in his public speaking abilities. Bill's death last year was quite a shock to all of us and he will always be greatly missed."

Next, Charlotte Wright spoke about Charter Member Lynn Mensink, who died in 2011. "Lynn was a very positive member of Toastmasters. He was willing to put himself out of his comfort zone and presented award-winning speeches," she said. "He was an encourager for other members, eager to invite guests and meet new people. He was always ready to take on new tasks and Lynn loved to talk about his beef cattle of which he was very proud."

Mensink was the first person to greet and welcome Denison to the club. "Lynn always had a smile on his face and was always interested in what was going on in your life." said Denison. "He made you feel important and was a great listener. Lynn was a great example of a Toastmaster and his passing was hard on the club."

The new Toastmasters International banner was adorned with ribbons bearing the names of the two deceased members, Lynn Mensink and Bill Sweetser, which will remain with the club and be displayed at each meeting.

Bluff Country Toastmasters Club welcomes everyone to the hour-long meeting at the Spring Valley Public Library meeting room on Tuesday evenings, beginning promptly at 5:30 p.m., where a safe, affordable and friendly environment is prepared to help answer questions about improving communication skills.

An added bonus is that refreshments are also served and are often freshly picked from the garden or right out of the oven. Beverages are also served.

For more information, contact President Charlotte Wright at (507) 937-3256.