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Ronda Hills, of St. Helens, accepts high accolades for herself and her late father

COURTESY PHOTO - Ronda Hill holds two plaques from Toastmasters International recognizing her and her late father, Dennis Hills, for earning the status of Distinguished Toastmaster after years of work and dedication to the goal. When Ronda Hills accepted an award in late April recognizing her as a Distinguished Toastmaster, she also accepted one for a loved one who couldn't be there — her late father, Dennis Hills.

Accepting the award, which is the highest distinction given by the International Toastmasters, was recognition for a culmination of years of dedicated hard work and effort, but the moment was somewhat bittersweet.

Ronda and Dennis, both St. Helens residents, had set out to achieve their Distinguished Toastmaster, or DTM, status together several years ago. But when Dennis died last August, he was unable to complete his application to be officially recognized. He had taken four years to complete all the work to be a DTM, and Ronda had taken six years. She felt the best way to honor her dad was to make sure he was posthumously recognized.

"I think it was the best way to honor my dad [and] his commitment to his goals, and also his community," Ronda said. "Because part of doing that means you're giving to others. You have to teach other Toastmasters, you have to be mentors, you have to show up to meetings — and my dad did all that."

To receive DTM status, members must complete a variety of tasks, including serving as club officer for six months, as a district officer for a year, earning advanced awards and leadership designations, and completing a number of duties that require significant time commitments and dedication.

"It takes years of commitment," Ronda said.

During the time Ronda and Dennis were working toward earning DTM status, they helped establish the Articulators Club, a St. Helens chapter of Toastmasters International that meets on Thursday evenings. That task alone took them nearly two years to accomplish, Ronda explained.

Both Ronda and Dennis were members of the Columbian Club, one of two St. Helens chapters of Toastmasters International, an organization that encourages and teaches members communication and leadership skills, but their connection with the organization has been ongoing for many years.

Ronda recalls when she was in high school and her dad was still working as a division chief with the St. Helens Fire District, prior to its change to Columbia River Fire and Rescue. He participated in Toastmasters at the time, which left an impression on her at a young age.

When she was promoted to sales director at her job with Ticor Title, she knew she wanted to develop stronger public speaking and leadership skills, and found her way back to Toastmasters International.

Frank Hupp, president of the Columbian Club and a member of the Astoria Toastmasters chapter, said achieving Distinguished Toastmaster status is a major accomplishment, and one not many members pursue.

"It's a big deal. The Distinguished Toastmasters is the highest award that Toastmasters awards," Hupp said. "It takes a lot of work, both inside the club and outside of the club."

Hupp has two DTM awards and is working on his third, so he knows how much effort it takes.

He said he had the pleasure to be one of Ronda's first mentors when she joined the organization, and he and other club members were incredibly supportive of helping Ronda and Dennis throughout the process.

"When Ronda and Dennis decided they wanted to go for that, they knew the goals they had to reach and the things they had to do, and we were supportive of them," Hupp said.

For Ronda, taking part in International Toastmasters was the perfect encapsulation of being the best version of herself she could be, something her dad taught her her as a child that followed her throughout her life.

"My dad and I have always had the goal and the drive to be able to be the best me I can be, and this is just one more way to do that. It makes you very well-rounded, well-spoken, and a good listener, and you put all of those together," Ronda said. "It was kind of the way I was raised, that you put your best foot forward and the only way to do that is to become the best you."

Hupp explained that Toastmasters is all about providing a supportive and encouraging environment for members to grow and achieve goals they set for themselves.

"It's everybody helping everybody else out. If you see a weakness and something they're struggling with you stand beside them and help them out," Hupp said.

Ronda echoed similar sentiments about the group's friendly environment.

"It's probably the most warm, inviting place you can learn to do public speaking because we're always supportive and we never tell people you did this wrong or you did that wrong," Ronda said. "It's just a real warm, compassionate environment."

For Dennis to receive the award, Ronda had to pay club dues for him and submit the application before she received a letter in late March with the good news. When asked why it was important to do that, Ronda's answer was simple.

"For me, it was one more way to honor a man that left a huge impression in his community and family," Ronda said.

For more information about the Columbian Club or the Articulators Club, visit the Toastmasters International Find a Club feature, or attend a meeting. Both clubs meet at Warren Country Inn on Thursdays from 12:05 to 1:05 p.m. or 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

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