CPN Tribal member and employee Nicole Sanchez received a surprise leading up to the holidays as she was named Citizen of the Year by the Tecumseh (Oklahoma) Chamber of Commerce.

“I was completely surprised to be nominated and in the running for this prestigious award,” she said, adding that she was shocked when she was announced as the winner. “I think every other person who was nominated was more deserving than myself. What an honor to represent my family, my Tribe and my community!”

Nicole Sanchez, center, wearing a blue dress and holding an award plaque is framed by CPN Vice-Chairman Linda Capps, wearing all black and a string of pearls, and Stacey Bennett, wearing a black shirt and blue jeans.
Nicole Sanchez, center, is pictured with CPN Vice-Chairman Linda Capps, left, and Stacey Bennett. (Photo provided)

Kimberly Elliott, executive director for the Tecumseh Chamber of Commerce, said all chamber members in Tecumseh and Shawnee have a chance to nominate candidates for the Citizen of the Year. A committee of three narrows those nominations down to three candidates, and then each business that is a member of the chamber gets at least one vote in determining the Citizen of the Year.

She said Sanchez is a past president of the Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Tecumseh School Board, and overall very active in the community and events.

“To know Nicole is to love Nicole. She’s definitely a people person, and she loves to make others happy. I think that contagious joy is one of the reasons she received the most votes,” Elliott said. “She puts her heart and soul into the community, and the community loves her back.”

Sanchez, a member of the Bourbonnais family, was raised in Tecumseh, where she attended school, graduating with the class of 2000. She attended Seminole State College in Seminole, Oklahoma, then received her degree in business administration from St. Gregory’s University in Shawnee, Oklahoma, in 2006, after earning the Nishnabe Potawatomi Leadership Scholarship from CPN.

“I have never left my hometown. I never wanted to,” she said. “There is so much beauty to be found in Tecumseh, beauty that only comes from generations of families and ties that simply cannot be broken.”

Sanchez spoke proudly of daily life helping her grandfather Carlisle Jenks outside, driving fence posts and feeding cattle with her father James “Bud” Jenks, and helping her grandmother Kay Anderson Jenks with sewing projects.

“A favorite memory of mine is the summers my Mema and I spent making Potawatomi regalia for the other women in my Tribe. The love of my Tribal heritage was something that both my grandparents instilled in me, and for that I am so grateful. Teaching me to keep that fire going and be the light for others,” she said.

In 2000, she started working for CPN first for a few weeks at the mini putt golf course, then part-time as a convenience store clerk while attending college. FireLake Discount Foods, which actually sits on land that was once the allotment of land Sanchez’s family received in the 1800s, was under construction at that time.

After the grocery store opened, Sanchez worked there part-time before moving to full-time in 2003. Today, she is FireLake Discount Foods’ marketing manager, and she oversees the marketing and social media for the store.

“I have an enjoyable and unique job at CPN,” she said. “I am ‘Passionately committed to retail excellence, one customer at a time.’ That is our vision statement. For me, that goes far beyond the sales floors.”

Sanchez married her husband, Julio, in 2005, and they have three children, Blakeley, Drake and Titus, as well as two stepchildren, Micah Sanchez and Micailah Sanchez-Crawley. They also have four grandchildren.

She said she enjoys playing with her grandchildren and exercising her creativity through many mediums.

“I love all things that have to do with nature. You can often find me at one of the local lakes in my kayak or chasing those beautiful Oklahoma sunsets to take a photo,” she said.