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Great Western Bank rewards Perry residents through Great Gifts of Gratitude program

Allison Ullmann
Perry Chief
Branch Manager Trace Schmitt presents Brandi Valdez with one of Great Western Bank's Great Gifts of Gratitude awards on Friday, Sept. 11 in Perry.

One Great Gifts of Gratitude award winner turned around and used the funds to help others in the community.

Brandi Valdez received $600 through Great Western Bank’s Great Gifts of Gratitude.

“In true Brandi fashion, she wouldn’t just accept the gratitude gift. She made sure it was used for more good purposes,” said Courtney Straker, with the Great Western Bank Perry branch, during a presentation to Valdez. “We aren’t just giving her money to make herself happy, but it will be going toward making more people happy.” 

Straker said the Great Gifts of Gratitude program is Great Western Bank’s way of saying thank you to those giving back and doing good deeds in their communities.

A press release from Great Western Bank said the one-time award program gave $70,000 to 140 winners across the bank's nine-state footprint. Over 600 nominations were received through an online process after the bank asked the public to send in stories of people making an impact in their community.

Perry had four winners:

  • Brandi Valdez, $600
  • Juan Meraz, $300
  • Theresa Cromwell, $600
  • Sven Peterson, $1,000

Brandi Valdez

Valdez was nominated by Jolene Galvan for her work at the Perry Elementary building helping with curbside lunch pickups. In her nomination letter, Galvan said Valdez would dress up in costume for the kids coming through to pick up their meals. 

Galvan added that Valdez also helped gather items for the Perry Area Food Pantry and helped her family after they lost everything in an April house fire.

Valdez has already planned what she will do with the funds she received from the Great Gifts of Gratitude program.

Valdez works at the Perry Elementary School and wanted to provide masks for kids.

“There are a lot of kids wearing their masks over and over and over again and we all know that’s not safe for them. I had masks made with themes so the kids are more apt to wear them and keep track of them because they care about them,” Valdez said.

One of her other passions involves having activities for kids to do. Valdez gave a portion of her award to Carlene Coleman with Showtime Dance Studio to help kids be able to dance.

“It sounds funny that a great-grandma would put a little girl into dance when she’s low on funds but I’m what’s normal. This little girl came to us every Tuesday last year so I’m the normalcy in her life,” Coleman said while fighting tears after receiving a check from Valdez to help with registration costs.

“This is going to help this little girl dance this year,” Valdez said.

“And that’s what this is about,” Straker said of the Great Gifts of Gratitude program.

Juan Meraz

Straker was also one of the nominators for the program as she nominated Juan Meraz. 

“On Valentine’s Day my mom was actually diagnosed with lung cancer. There were some issues because I ended up being her primary caregiver,” Straker said. “Juan was posting on Facebook and all the groups if anyone needs help with anything, just reach out. Someone tagged me in one of his posts and he didn’t ask any questions, he just asked for my address and he showed up and brought me food for my mom.”

Straker said even though Meraz didn’t know her, he reached out and helped her in a time of need. She added that Meraz didn’t just help her, he has helped multiple people throughout town and the area.

Courtney Straker, with Great Western Bank, presents Juan Meraz with a Great Gifts of Gratitude award on Wednesday, Sept. 9.

“He helps anyone and everyone and I’m just so grateful and I’m glad I was able to help give it back,” Straker said.

Meraz appreciated receiving the award and said he has been able to help around 375 people in town. 

“It’s my community. Ever since I moved to Perry, Perry has been so good to me. I’ve been here 19 years and it’s just a way to pay it back,” he said.

Trace Schmitt, branch manager at the Great Western Bank Perry branch, said they wanted to do their part “and keep the good going.”

Theresa Cromwell

The good, Schmitt said, extended to Saint Patrick’s Catholic School as Great Western Bank presented a Great Gifts of Gratitude award to Theresa Cromwell, who works at the school.

“Out of our group of 10 branches in the Metro, Perry had four winners. I think the next highest was two at another branch, so there’s a lot of good going on in Perry,” Schmitt said.

“I’m just glad to be a part of it, it’s awesome,” Cromwell said.

Theresa Cromwell, middle, poses for a photo with Kayla Rothmeyer and Branch Manager Trace Schmitt. Rothmeyer nominated Cromwell for Great Western Bank's Great Gifts of Gratitude program.

Cromwell was nominated by Kayla Rothmeyer for her work in starting and handing out meals to St. Pat’s and community members while school was shut down in mid-March because of COVID-19.

“Teresa is one of those people that takes nothing and makes it something. She just started putting together meals and not just peanut butter sandwiches but lasagna and tacos and anything that we had, she made it into something,” Rothmeyer said.

Though when asked about receiving the award, Cromwell was quick to say “I absolutely don’t think I deserve it.”

“I saw a need and I filled a need and that’s all I did. We had hungry families and we needed to do something for them and we did,” she added.

Cromwell estimated that they had an average of 12-15 families coming every day to pick up the family-style meals. 

“You could tell in the faces of the families that would roll up every day and just thank you so much for this. Almost in tears saying ‘you don’t know how much of a difference this has made,’” St. Pat’s Principal Kandice Roethler said.  

Around 4,000 individual meals had been handed out to families by May. Roethler said they knew they needed to keep serving meals in the summer and the program continued through the last week before school started in August.

“It comes back to what we were called to do as a church as a faith, help where there’s help needed and give where there’s need and you just do it,” Roethler said. “As Teresa said earlier, you see a need and you fill it. It came down to that right there. It was awesome and she was our lead on it and I was so thankful.”

Sven Peterson

Schmitt told Sven Peterson during the last Great Gifts of Gratitude presentation that the award is just a way to say thank you. Peterson received $1,000 during a surprise presentation at Josh Davis Memorial Plaza.

Peterson, Perry’s city administrator, was nominated by Eddie Diaz for his work in coordinating the city’s COVID-19 response.

Courtney Straker, with Great Western Bank, poses for a photo with Sven Peterson and Eddie Diaz. Diaz nominated Peterson for Great Western Bank's Great Gifts of Gratitude program.

“Other officials would wait for direction before making decisions, Sven took it upon himself to encourage collaboration between public and private sectors,” Diaz said in his nomination letter. “He directed reallocation of funds to purchase recreational equipment for kids stuck at home, helped organize the fundraising, purchasing, and distribution of thousands of masks weeks before guidance from the federal government encouraged the use of masks. Sven has worked behind the scenes on many of these initiatives and is tirelessly advocating for the residents of his community.”

Diaz added in his nomination letter that the community was better prepared for COVID-19 because of Peterson’s leadership.

“Sven will be integral in the recovery of Perry from the pandemic and it would be wonderful to see him recognized for the work he has done so far,” Diaz said.

Though Peterson was quick to point out that Diaz had a hand in the city's COVID-19 response, as well as city staff and others.

“It’s definitely been a team effort the last six months. There’s a lot of people to thank other than just me,” Peterson said.

Straker told him he would share his prize.

“I will have to find some way of doing that. Maybe a whole staff appreciation because it was definitely a team effort of city staff and other partners,” Peterson said.