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Mike Berkson, left, and Tim Wambach of Handicap This! Productions talk to a group gathered at Dakota Wesleyan University’s Sherman Center on Tuesday afternoon as part of the 2013 Cal Schultz Memorial day in Mitchell. Berkson, who has cerebral palsy, and Wambach perform on stage to raise awareness for people with disabilities. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

Mitchell woman, business honored by disability council

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life Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Don’t let the disability beat you.

That’s the message Deb Phyle, an employee at Firesteel Healthcare Center in Mitchell, wants to share. Phyle was honored as the outstanding employee with a disability during this year’s Cal Schultz awards presentation Tuesday evening at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre in Mitchell.

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Phyle was chosen as outstanding employee because of her dedication to her job. She has worked at Firesteel since 1998. Phyle said she is dyslexic and has a learning disability, but, through hard work and the help of friends, she’s been able to adapt.

“I decided I’m not going to let it beat me, I’m going to beat it. Now I feel I’ve overcome a goal,” she said.

Todd Dikoff, owner of the Brig Steakhouse and Lounge, was named outstanding employer of the year.

The winners are chosen by the Mitchell Advisory Council for People with Disabilities. Brenda Martin, vice president of the MACPD, said a committee chooses from among nominations. Each year, MACPD tries to coordinate the awards ceremony with National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which is in October.

Phyle said she is grateful to Career Connections, Martin and her supervisors at her job for supporting her, and hopes she can inspire others with disabilities to never give up.

“I’m really grateful to have the support,” Phyle said. “We all did it.”

Meanwhile, one of the reasons Dikoff was selected as outstanding employer, Martin said, is basic math: Of the 30 people he employs, five have disabilities. The award is given annually to Mitchell businesses for outstanding achievement for improving employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Dikoff said people with disabilities are often his most dedicated employees.

“It seems like they want to work,” he said. “They want to come to work and be part of something instead of just sitting at home.”

The awards are named for Cal Schultz, who designed more than 300 Corn Palace murals. Born in Douglas County in 1926, he contracted polio at the age of 2.

He was a 1946 graduate of Ethan High School and a 1957 graduate of Dakota Wesleyan University, where he took art classes. Despite his disability, Schultz taught at Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Town in Omaha and at St. Paul’s Indian Mission in Marty. He developed the art program at the South Dakota State Training School in Plankinton and taught in the Mitchell school system for 19 years.

In 1977, Schultz began designing the murals on the Corn Palace, and retired in 2001. In 1993, he was named South Dakota’s Outstanding Citizen with a Disability; in 1998, he was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame.

He died in 2004.

The day’s events also included presentations by Handicap This! Productions, which, according to its website, is a disability entertainment company that focuses on motivational entertainment for all audiences. Its mantra is “No Judgment Allowed,” and centers around the friendship of the main speakers, Mike Berkson and Tim Wambach. They performed twice Tuesday, once in the afternoon at Dakota Wesleyan University and again in the evening at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre following the awards ceremony.

— The Daily Republic’s Ross Dolan contributed to this report.

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