May 22, 2002 11:00 pm

Bob Nelson, the field manager of the La Grande office of the Oregon Employment Department, could not go to Bend last weekend to receive an award before about 200 fellow workers.

Instead he was busy helping the Enterprise office move into its expanded offices so that it could better serve its Wallowa County customers.

Serving customers is what Nelson does best, said Len York, acting regional manager who also directs the Department's Baker City office.

That is why York was in La Grande early this week to hand over the 2002 Customer Service Award which York received on Nelson's behalf last weekend at the conference of the International Association of Personnel Employment Security in Bend.

About a dozen people gathered in a small room at the local employment office to hear York say that this is the first time the award has been given to an individual.

"This award is a reflection of what all of our employees do every day," Nelson said. "This is pretty much for all of (Employment Department workers in) Eastern Oregon."

The La Grande office is visited by an average of 250 people a day, according to a counter near the front door of the Adams Avenue offices.

Nelson was nominated for the award by Teri K. Berry, business and employment specialist in La Grande, with support of the La Grande and Enterprise offices.

She wrote in her nomination later that Nelson, who has been the local manager for 6 1/2 years, "has consistently shown himself to be the epitome of customer service. It is an extremely common scenario to find Bob working the front desk in our office, serving the public. His example of good customer service serves as a lesson to his entire staff."

Nelson's motto is, "Customer service first," Berry said.

Nelson was commended for his work in establishing a Career Center at La Grande High School, his efforts in writing grant proposals that resulted in purchase of computer equipment, including digital cameras, for Union, Baker and Wallowa counties to be used in schools and in the communities; his role in helping bring ODS Health Plans to La Grande.

Nelson continues to promote the "Business after Hours" gatherings of La Grande businesses, is an active member of the Union County Search and Rescue Unit, active in the Union and Wallowa counties chambers of commerce, and promoting leadership skills in Union County.

Several letters of commendation accompanied Nelson's nomination.

— Ray Linker