March 26, 2002 11:00 pm

By T.L. Petersen

Observer Staff Writer

ELGIN From complete surprise and a family conspiracy to a few moments of serious nervousness, Elgins newest honorees for people of the year had nothing but smiles as they talked about their awards.

Marc Stauffer was named man of the year by the Elgin Chamber of Commerce and Maureen Smolkowski and Sheila Miller were named woman of the year and young woman of the year by the Elgin Womens Service Club.

I didnt expect it at all, said Stauffer, who has been on the Elgin City Council for a little more than a year and is a furniture refinisher and repairman.

I think I was just doing the job I was elected to do, he said.

But more went into Stauffers nomination by fellow councilor John Braughton than just service to the city.

Stauffer, who moved to Elgin in the summer of 1989, has been active with youth and is working on ideas that could bring more businesses to Elgin.

Our community is struggling, said Stauffer, the father of five. I hope our kids have the option to remain here.

When the opportunity came to serve on the council, Stauffer said he decided to dive in and see what happened.

Stauffer and his wife, Teena, hadnt been to a chamber banquet before, but decided to go to this years event, held earlier this month.

When Teena got the call the morning of the banquet and learned that her husband would be honored, I made sure we got there, she said.

She had been asked to write up some thoughts about her husbands involvement some time ago, but was surprised when the information was used to describe him.

Stauffer admits that when he heard the winner described as being born in Salinas, Calif., he never thought about it, but just looked around to see who else came from his hometown.

I was just really shocked, he said. Its very humbling.

The surprise of the award was nice, but not so shocking to Woman of the Year Smolkowski, who had been nominated before.

Smolkowski said the best part of the award was coming home and finding that Janet Staffords daughters had made a large congratulations sign and put it up in her dining room. It had been signed by many people in the community.

And they left Smolkowski some chocolates, too.

Now, that was really sweet! she recalls.

Smolkowski said it didnt take her long to recognize herself as the winner was described, and at that point the worry began.

Im kind of an introvert, Smolkowski said, explaining that she will speak in public if she has a chance to prepare her remarks.

She was also concerned as the award was announced because she felt that Stauffer and Miller had given beautiful short speeches.

Suddenly, Im up there, Smolkowski, a 16-year Elgin resident, remembered.

People spoke about her work establishing the Mary Rose Christian preschool, her story-telling ability, her work in putting together the Riverfest celebration and her being a charter member of the Elgin Lions Club.

Smolkowski recalls little of what was said at the banquet.

I was thinking, I have to say something, she said.

While appreciating the honor given her, Smolkowski said my great accomplishment of the night was that I stood there and actually said something.

For Sheila Miller, the whole issue of a banquet honoring Elgin citizens came as a shock.

Miller, a coach in several youth sports including soccer and basketball, and a 4-H leader, blames her mother, Laura Vandusen and nominator Helen Tucker for the evenings embarrassment.

Vandusen suggested that Sheila and Bill Miller could be lured to the banquet easiest if they thought Vandusen was getting a bus-driving award.

The Millers went to the banquet in workout clothes and jeans.

It was a complete embarrassment, Bill Miller remembers. We were looking for a way out. None of the people there were bus driver people.

Miller started looking at the program and realized that either Vandusen or Sheila had to be getting one of the three awards of the night.

Its a great honor, he said, noting that the list of past women includes some pretty prestigious people.

For Sheila Miller, who was a member of Elgins 1984 girls state playoff basketball team, the honor was a recognition of her work with what she loves, sports.

Miller knows that some of her young athletes consider her tough they call it being in the Miller-tary but her goal is to see Elgin boys be competitive in high school sports by getting off to an early start.

That night, though, as she stepped to the microphone to give thanks, Miller confesses to having only two thoughts.

Im going to kill my mom, she said, still laughing about the hoax she fell for.

And to extend her thanks to all the Elgin businesses and individuals who support the youth sports teams.

Reach T.L. Petersen at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it