If Sharon Townsend is working at the front desk at Hampton Inn in Seymour, customers will be greeted with a smile and friendly disposition.
No matter where the guest is from or how long they are staying there, Townsend treats them with the Hoosier hospitality they expect.
When the hotel’s former manager, Sara Jackson, received nomination information for the lieutenant governor’s Hoosier Hospitality Award, she knew exactly who to nominate.
”Sharon Townsend lights up the lobby at Hampton Inn in Seymour,” Jackson wrote. “Guests are greeted with her smile and Hoosier hospitality as soon as they walk into the lobby.”
The hotel lost power for nearly four hours one day. Jackson said Townsend pitched in to check people in the old-fashioned way.
“Sharon spoke with the guests, would tell them jokes and entertain any small children. She made sure the guests had the best experiences during this unique check-in process,” Jackson wrote. “Sharon is always asking guests about their road trips and vacation. She uses this knowledge to pass along recommendations to other travelers coming through the area.”
On Nov. 5, Townsend, 59, was among the 16 recipients of the Hoosier Hospitality Award from Indiana Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch.
The award recognizes a high level of service in tourism-related jobs at hotels, restaurants, attractions and other destinations. Nominations are submitted by community members and destination patrons and are reviewed and selected by Indiana Destination Development Corp.
Hampton Inn in Seymour is one of the properties owned by Columbus-based Sprague Hotel Developers, and that company had five Hoosier Hospitality Award winners.
Townsend, who works at the hotel two or three days a week, said she was surprised to check her email one day and see a message letting her know she was an award winner.
“I was always raised to treat people like you want to be treated, so that’s what I try to do,” she said. “It’s nice to be rewarded for being me. I’m just me. I talk a lot and I try to smile all of the time and treat everybody the way I want to be treated.”
Before Townsend began working at Hampton Inn in August 2017, she was working at a nursing home in Columbus. She was looking for a job and filled out online applications for several places but hadn’t had any luck.
She then went to the three hotels next to each other on North Sandy Creek Drive in Seymour. Two interviewed her on the spot, and the man who managed Hampton Inn at the time was surprised no one had hired her yet.
Two days later, he called and offered her a job at the front desk.
Since she uses a wheelchair, Townsend said it’s hard for her to find a job, but she’s glad Hampton Inn gave her a chance.
In her 30s, Townsend was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a group of diseases that causes progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass, according to mayoclinic.org. There’s no cure, but medications and therapy can help manage symptoms and slow the course of the disease.
“At that point, I just had trouble walking up stairs, and that was it,” Townsend said. “Then it just kind of has gotten progressively worse. I’ve only been in a wheelchair full time 10, 11 years.”
There are a couple of tasks she can’t do at work, but she’s fortunate to have co-workers who will help.
“Every employee is really, really helpful for me, and then they made a couple of physical accommodations for me there, so it has been wonderful,” Townsend said.
“I tell people that if I had started in this business in my 20s, I would still be in it and I wouldn’t have majored in music education (in college),” she said, laughing.
Working at Hampton Inn has made a great impact on Townsend’s life, mainly because she’s not the kind of person who can sit at home and do nothing.
“I was furloughed twice during COVID, and I got all of the extra money and stuff, which is great, I loved that, but about three weeks into it, I was already calling the hotel back saying, ‘Um, you need me yet?’” she said. “It wasn’t even the money. It was just I get out, I socialize and I’m a very social person and I talk a lot, so I like to get out and socialize, and this job was just wonderful for me.”
She said she likes meeting new people, and at the hotel, guests come from all over the world, including other states, Japan, France, Canada and the Netherlands.
“I can’t travel to those places, so it’s kind of like getting to experience those and not actually being there,” she said. “I also just feel like I need to contribute. I just feel like I’m contributing something to the world.”
In 2018, Raghu Gurumurthy came to Seymour for the first time and stayed at Hampton Inn. The management consultant from Toledo, Ohio, was in town doing a project for Valeo.
“Sharon was the first person that I came across when I checked into the Hampton Inn property,” he said. “The first couple of interactions, they were pretty formal because guests come and go every day.”
His project, however, ended up being long term, and he was there for three straight months, so he and Townsend got to know each other on a personal level.
“Hampton Inn kind of became my home away from home because I was there for five, six nights a week,” he said.
In 2019, he was in Seymour for most of the year. Again, he said Townsend took great care of him.
“At the time, my wife was pregnant, so we were expecting our first child, and (Townsend) was just a good bouncing board for me talking about some parenting tips,” Gurumurthy said. “There would be good days for me in the office, bad days for me in the office, but I would always light up whenever I would see Sharon because her demeanor is so calm and gentle. She’s always smiling. She’s always welcome. She’s always asking about your welfare.”
One time, Gurumurthy was leaving the hotel and asked the manager if they could keep his bag there since he was going to return in a day. Since the hotel was full, he was told they couldn’t keep it. Townsend, however, offered to take the bag to her house and keep it until Gurumurthy returned.
“That, to me, was really touching because I travel a lot. I’m a management consultant. I live in a lot of places for extended periods of time. Even if I get to know people well, never has anyone offered to take my bags to their place,” he said.
Townsend even made a quilt and gave it to Gurumurthy for his baby.
“In today’s age, lip service is easy, but putting time and effort into something, that really embodies who Sharon is,” he said, noting the two have continued to stay in touch, checking in on each other every so often.
Scott Wells also has had a long-term interaction with Townsend. The Tennessee resident is a certified driver trainer for Walmart and hires truck drivers for the nearby Walmart Distribution Center. Since March, he has stayed at Hampton Inn from Sunday to Friday.
“When we first got there, she was just the most courteous, most hospitable front desk clerk I’ve ever been around. She’s always there lending a hand, helpful,” he said.
“I run a group of guys that come in there every week, and I’m always switching rooms, and she’s always on the spot,” he said. “I say, ‘Sharon, can I do this?’ She says, ‘I’ve got you, Scott, I’ve got you.’ She’s just spot-on with everything she does. She’s always got a smile on her face. She’s always ready to help ‘What can I do?’ She has even got us with the local restaurants and referred us to them to eat at. She’s just a bundle of joy. She’s fun to be around.”
When Jackson told him she nominated Townsend for the Hoosier Hospitality Award and later said she won, Wells wasn’t surprised.
“I’m like, ‘You couldn’t have nominated a better person than her.’ Sharon, she’s top-notch. She is the picture of hospitality. She deserves everything that she gets and then some,” he said.
“It’s like I tell my drivers here at Walmart, we strive for excellence each and every day, and I think Sharon is the picture-perfect person for that,” he said. “She strives to be the best that she can be in her role in her job, and I think that’s where she precedes over anyone else. She’s just a good person to be around.”
Townsend realizes someday, her body is going to prevent her from working. She said her arms are pretty weak now, and it takes her about three hours to get ready for work.
Until then, though, she’s going to maintain her positive demeanor and provide the same Hoosier hospitality guests have come to expect.
“Once I get there, I’m as happy as a clam,” she said. “It’s just getting ready is the hardest part, so eventually, I’m not going to be able to do it, so I figure if they’ll let me stay there until my body gives out, I’m going to. I love it there.”