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Small Business Administration recognizes west Ky. official, volunteer for tornado recovery efforts

Courtesy of Kathy O'Nan

A pair of west Kentuckians are being honored on the national level by the Small Business Administration (SBA) this week as a part of National Small Business Week celebrations in Washington, D.C.

The SBA gives out three Phoenix Awards for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery every year, recognizing “selflessness, ingenuity, and tenacity” in volunteers, business owners and public officials as they lead their communities forward after a disaster. This year, two of three awards are going home with Mayfield residents.

Mayfield Mayor Kathy O’Nan is being recognized for her contributions as a public official and Sandra Delk for her contributions as a volunteer.

O’Nan led the city in the aftermath of it being hit by a historic long-track tornado in December 2021, a disaster that destroyed thousands of structures and killed 24 people in Graves County. Since the storm, O’Nan has worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the SBA, Kentucky Emergency Management, national, regional and local nonprofits and organizers to help her city recover. She was also elected to a second term.

The mayor hopes her recognition – and Delk’s – shows how the community has worked together as a whole since the tornado.

“I just hope I represent exactly what the people of Mayfield have done immediately after those winds quit blowing,” she said. “They jumped into action, they did what had to be done and now that they are still doing that 15 months later it just shows the kind of community that Mayfield is.”

Delk’s volunteer efforts sprang from her work at the Mayfield-Graves County Fairgrounds, which she now manages. In the immediate aftermath of the tornado outbreak, Delk ran the fairgrounds as a clearinghouse for supply donations that flooded in from around the country, providing a rallying point for distribution to area survivors in need.

“You get to a point where you don't really think you did that much. And then you know, you were there,” Delk said. “You know you did all these things, but still to be recognized for it. That was something [that] was so unexpected.”

Both Delk and O’Nan traveled to the U.S. Capitol to receive their honors.

A native of western Kentucky, Operle earned his bachelor's degree in integrated strategic communications from the University of Kentucky in 2014. Operle spent five years working for Paxton Media/The Paducah Sun as a reporter and editor. In addition to his work in the news industry, Operle is a passionate movie lover and concertgoer.
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