Seventeen-year-old Morgan Cole of Kirkersville got a surprise Aug. 25 when speaking to the Pataskala Lions Club about her work in the organization's affiliate for high-schoolers, the Southwest Licking Leo Club.
She learned she had received the Lions International Leo of the Year Award.
"I was so confused by what was going on, I had no clue," Cole said. I was completely taken aback."
Cole was nominated by her Leo Club advisers, Brian and Sarah McGuire.
She was one of 30 Leo Club members chosen from around the world to receive the award and she is the only Ohio resident to receive it, according to the Lions International list of 2013-14 winners.
"Morgan has been a wonderful example for her peers demonstrating the following attributes as the leader of our club: dependability, follow-through, dedication, exceptional ethical and moral code, creativity, a can-do attitude and excellent public-speaking skills," Sarah McGuire said in an email.
McGuire said Cole joined the Southwest Licking Leo Club in 2011 when the club was reorganizing.
Cole said she learned about the club from a friend and attended a pizza party at the McGuires' home to learn how the club works.
The teen-service organization includes students from the Southwest Licking school district and is sponsored by the Pataskala Lions Club, McGuire said.
"I really liked the idea of being in a youth organization that does community service," Cole said.
She joined the club as one of three members; the club now includes 18 students.
McGuire said Cole served as the club's treasurer for one year and is in her second year as president.
Cole said in her tenure, the Leo Club brought back the Pataskala community egg hunt. Members also visit local nursing homes.
Cole said she has gained a lot of leadership experience, especially from organizing the egg hunt for the past two years.
"It's a lot of fun but it's stressful at times," she said. "I gained a lot of really good leadership experience and organizational skills from going out and getting donations from businesses and dealing with the media."
She also gives credit to her fellow club members.
"I could not do anything without the Leo Club members," Cole said. "I hope it is as big an honor for them as it is for me."
McGuire said the Leo Club also financially supports the city's Halloween celebration and helped raise funds for the Pataskala Municipal Pool renovations and the Pataskala fireworks show in 2014. The club maintains a booth at the city's street fair, supports local food drives and such fundraisers as the Relay For Life.
"In addition to being a Leo, she is also very active in her church youth department, band and most recently was on the set crew for the Sterling Theater youth (production) Once Upon a Mattress," McGuire said in an email. "She also is currently employed at the Kroger's in Pataskala."
Cole is a senior at Watkins Memorial High School and hopes to attend Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., in the fall of 2015 to study chemistry with a minor in education. She said she plans to become a chemistry teacher.
Cole said she chose the college in Kansas because that is where she originally is from. The family moved to Kirkersville seven years ago, she said.