Pictured are the 10 finalists for the R.K. Thompson Self-Reliance Awards honored at the 47th annual banquet on Wednesday evening at Vantage Career Center. (DHI Media/Erin Cox)
Pictured are the 10 finalists for the R.K. Thompson Self-Reliance Awards honored at the 47th annual banquet on Wednesday evening at Vantage Career Center. (DHI Media/Erin Cox)
VAN WERT — Bailey Stegaman and Marcus Tarlton were named winners of the R.K. Thompson Self-Reliance Award on Wednesday evening during the 47th annual banquet for the awards.

Stegaman and Tarlton are both seniors at Vantage Career Center in its welding and fabrication program, where they are under the instruction of Brent Wright who was also a winner of the R.K. Thompson Award in 1996 when he was also a student at Vantage in the welding program.

Stegaman, who is the daughter of Rich Strunkenburg and Stacie Stegaman, is a Student Ambassador and involved with the interactive media department. After graduation, she plans on attending college in Jacksonville, Florida, to earn certifications in both pipe and underwater welding. She is currently employed at Fricker’s and the Tavern.

Stegaman has had to help her family since she was young and said, “I make choices every day on what will help as much as possible.”

Stegaman was thankful for the education she has received at Vantage Career Center.

“The skills I’ve learned mean I won’t have to keep struggling my entire life,” Stegaman had stated. “I want my future family to have an easier life than what I had.”

“She is one of the rare types of kids that is determined to succeed and when she puts her mind to do something she gives it her all,” one of her references wrote.

Tarlton, son of Erica Comment, has competed as an artist on the comic contest team. Following graduation, he plans on moving to Michigan to pursue employment as a welder. Tarlton has been employed by Woodland Cemetery as well as performing various jobs for Robbie and Juanita Gay.

“To me being self-reliant means taking care of yourself no matter what and never giving up because it’s too hard or you’re alone,” Tarlton had written.

When introducing Tarlton it was noted that he had faced challenges that left him with PTSD and chronic depression.

“I try my best to just survive, not thrive,” he had written. “That is until two years ago when I found Vantage. Vantage was my golden ticket to a good life, so I did my best slamming myself with classes.”

“He does not give up on his goals and makes sure that he achieves every goal he has,” one of his references had said. “I see him as one of the most responsible people I have met.”

The R.K. Thompson Self-Reliance Award is sponsored by the Thompson Family Trust, through the Van Wert County Foundation, and administered by the Van Wert Service Club.

The students first write essays that a committee in the Van Wert Service Club reviews without knowing the names of the author and narrows it down to 12 girls and 12 boys. Then the club members obtain feedback from three references before reviewing the essays again and then choosing five girls and five boys as the finalists.

All 10 finalists are then interviewed by members of the Van Wert Service Club and one boy and one girl are determined to be the most self-reliant.

This year’s girl finalists in addition to Stegaman were Madison Buecker, daughter of Mark Buecker and Kristy Grindell; Maggie Cripe, daughter of Doug and Sarah Cripe; Cora Millay, daughter of Jeff and Cynthia Millay; and Brooke Ripley, daughter of Van and Kelly Ripley.

This year’s boy finalists in addition to Tarlton were Brayden Farmer, son of Scott and Samantha Farmer; Joel Germann, son of Doug and Marcia Germann; Jacob Durden; and Ethan Culp, son of Randy and Dawn Culp.

All the finalists received a plaque and $500.

After the winner were announced during the ceremony held at Vantage Career Center, guest speaker Sarah Evans Tackett provided some advice to the 10 finalists.

Tackett, who currently resides in Defiance, is a former Miss Ohio and talent award winner in the Miss America Pageant. She is a 1983 graduate of Van Wert High School and graduate of Bowling Green State University. She has a 30-year career in college admissions, marketing, and healthcare, and presently serves as executive director of the Foundation for ProMedica Defiance Regional Hospital.

She and her husband, Jeff, also tour the U.S. as The Tacketts, a Christian Country group filling approximately 100 dates a year, along with their band Powell Creek Junction.

On Wednesday she had five pieces of advice for the students:

1. Live by the golden rule — treat others how you want to be treated;

2. Be true to yourself;

3. Never stop dreaming big dreams;

4. Do the right thing; and

5. You must care for yourself in order to care for others.

“The greatest testimony that we have is the life that we live,” Tackett said. “And remember that no matter what happens today the sun’s going to come up.”

Tackett closed the evening’s banquet with a song.