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FCTA Executive Director Kevin Kelley and Assistant Director Kristin Grooms presented the 2023 Employee of the Year Award to Bill Shoemaker (left) and Sonny Starr (right) Thursday. 

Two tie for prestigious award

For the first time in recent memory, Fulton County Transit Authority has two Employee of the Year recipients.

The 2023 award voting by FCTA employees resulted in a tie at the end of vote tabulation earlier this month. Rather than try to determine a way to break the tie, Executive Director Kevin Kelley and Assistant Director Kristin Grooms decided to name two winners.

The 2023 FCTA Employees of the Year are Mechanic Bill Shoemaker and Driver Trainer Sonny Starr. Kelley and Grooms announced Shoemaker’s win at the Fulton FCTA Office Christmas meal Thursday, December 21, while the leadership duo announced Starr’s win at the Mayfield FCTA Office Christmas meal.

Shoemaker, an Army brat, began working on vehicles in high school. Although he earned a scholarship to attend technical school, Shoemaker opted to join the United States Navy where he worked on helicopters for eight years. Following his time in the Navy, Shoemaker worked as a mechanic working for mostly vehicle dealerships for much of his career. He is classified as a Master Tech 12 and a Chrysler Master Tech.

November 11, 2022, was Shoemaker’s first day as FCTA’s mechanic. Working on Transit vehicles, Shoemaker says he sees typical mechanical issues.

“It’s mostly minor stuff and nothing repetitive,” Shoemaker said in a May 2023 article for FCTA’s Transmissions newsletter.  “I do a lot of general maintenance.”

Shoemaker and his wife, Wendy, have been married for two years. She started working in Scheduling at FCTA earlier this year. The couple have four children between the two of them.

Although his time working at FCTA has only been a little over a year, Shoemaker says it has been a good one. He is very appreciative of the recognition from the other employees.

“I appreciate all the votes and hope to do a better job this coming year,” Shoemaker said. "Thank you for all the votes. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.”

Starr was born in Tacoma, Washington, but grew up in Winston, Oregon. He and his wife, Michelle, have four children – three girls and a boy.

Starr began working at FCTA June 20, 2022, as a Driver. He still drives for the agency, but also serves as a Driver Trainer at FCTA. Currently he has trained many of the newer FCTA Drivers.

The West Coast native has had a plethora of careers throughout his adult life. He managed a string of radio stations and served as an EMT. He has worked as a producer, film historian, newspaper columnist, and host for the nation’s top classic Hollywood program called “Starr Talk With Sonny Starr” for 14 years.

Starr is very appreciative of the award.

“It took me by surprise,” Starr admitted. “I really didn’t expect it. There are so many that are better qualified than me. All I can say is I’m very grateful for such an honor. The fact that this came from my peers has such special meaning.  Thank you so much. I will always remember this great honor!”

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Darryl Sims is FCTA's longest riding client. As FCTA Ambassador, Sims often represents FCTA in various activities. 

FCTA Ambassador is regional treasure

Everybody loves Darrell Sims.

In the four-county area Fulton County Transit Authority serves – Fulton, Hickman, Graves, and Carlisle – there possibly aren’t a handful of other people someone could make that blanket statement about. For Darrell Sims, though, it’s true.

“Darrell knows and loves everyone, and everyone knows and loves Darrell,” said Kenney Etherton, former FCTA Executive Director. “He has been a FCTA client for more than 20 years and is the best FCTA driver trainer on the route he rides. If you are having a bad day, Darrell can change that by just saying good morning to you.”

Etherton thinks Darrell has never had a bad day in his life.

“He has an infectious smile and a kind word for everyone,” Etherton said. “He loves UK basketball and most of the time he is wearing something blue to show support for his UK basketball team and blue for FCTA. Darrell loves his God, his churches, UK Basketball, his job, FCTA, and he LOVED his Mother unconditionally.”

Several years ago, some members of the FCTA staff approached Etherton to do something special for Darrell because of the love for and support he’d offered the agency throughout the years. After much thought, those FCTA staff members decided to bestow upon Darrell the title of FCTA Ambassador.

“The word ambassador describes Darrell to a ‘T.’ He is one of our best supporters and advertisers. Darrell is quick to tell anyone and everyone about FCTA and the good things we do,” Etherton said. “I sometimes think if we could take a page from the life of Darrell Sims, it would say, ‘Just be happy and treat everyone with respect.’ We would have a much better world. I could tell Darrell stories all day long. He is one of the most loving and respectful people I know in the world. He’s never met a stranger and will never forget a name.”

Darrell takes his job as FCTA Ambassador very seriously.

“I like everything about being Ambassador,” Darrell said when asked recently. “I like representing FCTA.”

FCTA began its mission as a “people mover” in the mid-1980s. At 25 years, Darrell holds the record for most continual ridership of any client. Currently, Darrell rides in a FCTA vehicle daily from his home in Clinton to his job at Mayfield’s Food Giant. He celebrated his 28th year of employment there in November. Prior to working at Food Giant, Darrell worked at Smith’s for nine years.

“Guess I’ll probably work forever,” Darrell said, laughing. “You never know.”

Darrell was born in Chicago and moved to Clinton when he was 13 years old.

“I had family here,” Darrell said while explaining why they moved to the Hickman County town. “Clinton is a good place to grow up.”

On February 3, Darrell celebrated his 62nd birthday spectacularly.

“My birthday is the same day as Morgan Fairchild’s birthday,” Darrell said, smiling. For those of you who DON’T recognize her name, she’s a longtime actress from soap operas, TV shows, and movies.

Being FCTA Ambassador does have its perks. Darrell and the late Sam Jones, a longtime driver for FCTA, traveled to Frankfort to represent the agency for Transit Day at the Capitol one year. Darrell also represents FCTA at various public events around the four-county area. During the recent holidays, FCTA staff members kept Darrell busy riding in a Transit van on a five Christmas parade schedule including Mayfield, Arlington, Fulton, Clinton, and Hickman. Each September, Darrell represents FCTA in the Twin Cities’ Banana Festival Parade. In October, he can always be seen waving from a FCTA vehicle participating in the Clinton/Hickman County Halloween Parade.

The FCTA Ambassador is so faithful to go to church, he attends two of them weekly.

“I go to First Baptist on Sunday and the Assembly of God on Wednesday,” Darrell said, smiling broadly.

Following a recent Hickman County Spring Chicken Festival, employees who manned an informational booth for FCTA reported back at work that several people told them Darrell has the people at the churches he attends pray for Transit employees every Sunday or Wednesday.

“They said Darrell even calls most of us by name when he prays for FCTA,” one of the employees recalled. “I don’t think we could have a better Ambassador than one who asks God to bless FCTA and those of us who work here.”

When not working or representing FCTA at events, Darrell said he likes to listen to music, keep up with St. Louis Cardinals baseball, or hang out with friends. Many who know Darrell probably don’t know about one of his many skills. He doesn’t just listen to music, but Darrell apparently has memorized who sang every song he has ever heard. Recently, while hanging out with some of his FCTA friends, they began singing a line or two from songs they knew – including obscure ones from the early 1970s. Every line they would sing, Darrell would answer, “Alright, Tammy Wynette!” or “Alright, Aerosmith!” If two people or groups had recorded the song, Darrell was quick to educate those singing the lyrics for him about that fact as well.

Almost daily, Darrell will call the FCTA Dispatch Office on his ride home from work to check in and ask how everyone at Transit is doing. Often Darrell has heard about an illness, a death in a family, or something that has happened to one of the FCTA employees. He never fails to ask about those situations first.
“When he calls in you obviously know who he is because he has that cheery disposition,” said FCTA Dispatch/Scheduling Supervisor Christy Snow. “Darrell asks about everyone, and he always leaves us a good word for the end of the day. Darrell always tells us to tell everyone to have a good day and a good evening and that he is ready for the next day for us to pick him up.”

FCTA Operations Manager Rachel Cook considers Darrell unique and an integral part of the FCTA canvas.

“Darrell Sims is one of a kind,” Cook explained. “His personality is big and his love for life is bigger. He knows how to make anyone’s day. I remember the first day I met him, he gave me a big hug and welcomed me to the FCTA family. Since that day, Darrell has been such a positive staple in my career.”

According to Cook, Darrell can remember anything and everything.

“Darrell never forgets a face or a birthday,” Cook explained. “His birthday call each year is one I look forward to. I am so thankful that I have had the privilege to know and spend time with Darrell.”

Cook is not the only employee impacted by knowing Darrell.

“Darrell means a lot to all of our employees, and we mean a lot to him,” Cook said. “He had a very special relationship with Sam Jones and Charles Cavaness, two FCTA Drivers who have passed away. Every time I get to sit down and chat with Darrell, he reminds me how much he misses them both and how they were his family. We are his family and Darrell is ours. I couldn’t imagine a better person to represent us.”

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