Barth Hague, city commissioner and member of the Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee, and Michelle Cook, ticket agent at the Newton Amtrak Station, have formed a relationship — built on multiple encounters at about 3 a.m. and the memory of Hague's father — who worked at the Newton station for the Santa Fe as a ticket agent.
It is that relationship, in part, that made Tuesday a special day.
Cook was awarded an Amtrak Customer Advisory Committee exemplary customer service award. The committee began the awards program in 2003 and has given about 160 awards since that time.
Hague nominated Cook for the award and was able to present it to her Tuesday.
"Michelle has one of the toughest jobs at Amtrak, as the lone ticket agent in Newton and the only ticket agent in the entire state, she is the face of Amtrak passengers see day in and day out," Hauge said. "She manages the arrival of both trains daily and a throughway bus, usually in the middle of the night. ... There are times when both trains arrive and depart at the same time. She becomes a madwoman at that point but she handles it well. ... She cheerfully alerts passengers, loads and offloads baggage, helps passengers with special needs — normally in the dark and sometimes in bad weather. She goes out of her way to make sure sleepy passengers off the Southwest Chief can find their way and are taken care of."
For the past few years, she has done that with rumors swirling as the result of presentations by Amtrak management to Congress about the future of the train.
"She is a wonderful agent who effectively manages passenger traffic for the Southwest Chief and the bus extension to the Heartland Flyer — all done in the middle of the night. Hers is the first face a lot of visitors see when they arrive in Kansas. She is our ambassador, who also loads and unloads baggage, issues tickets and solves a variety of passenger problems," Hague said.
Cook thanked her family for the support they have given as she has worked a job that happens mostly at night.
"It is stablity. That is the reason you can come in rain or shine, late trains or whatever, and give back. You give what you would expect for yourself," Cook said.