Michelle Hickok’s Zelma’s Awards in Red Bluff
By Melissa Mendonca
Story by Melissa Mendonca
Photos courtesy of Alexis LeClair
WHEN MICHELLE HICKOK went searching the vast archives of her photo collection recently, she was stunned to come across an image of herself from March 8, 2011. A recent Chico State grad, she is seen putting vinyl lettering on a new door sign for Zelma’s Awards as an employee of the nearby Copy Center in downtown Red Bluff.
The photo took Hickok aback for two reasons: She now owns Zelma’s and March 8 is also the day her daughter was born this year.
She’s shared the photo with Patty Lingenfelter, who sold Zelma’s to her and continues to support and mentor her through business ownership. “I’ve known her since I worked at the Copy Center, which was pretty much right out of high school in 2005,” says Hickok. “She’s an adoptive grandmother to our daughter. It’s definitely more a familial connection than a strict business transaction.”
Lingenfelter thought of Hickok immediately when she and her husband Jim decided to sell their business and retire. Hickok, however, had just taken a job in marketing at Rolling Hills Casino and was ready to dive into the experience with gusto. It was three years before she gave the opportunity serious consideration. She celebrates a year of ownership at Zelma’s this month.
“The way this has all come together, it definitely feels there was some higher universal power involved,” says Hickok, clearly still in awe of the unexpected turns her life has taken. Not long after deciding she was ready to transition from the casino, her husband Casey went into Zelma’s to order a plaque for the Red Bluff Fire Department, where he’s a full-time fireman. Lingenfelter confided to him that she’d approached Michelle a few years earlier about purchasing the business. He, too, thought it was a great idea.
“I do have to credit Casey with getting that fire started to work toward that transition,” she says with a laugh. Hickok began using vacation days to study under Lingenfelter, and closed the deal on the business in October 2018. A week and a half after leaving the casino in September 2018, she and Casey discovered she was pregnant. “We had been living life at a million miles an hour,” says Hickok. The new business allowed her to end a commute to Corning as well as bring their baby to work. “It’s really cool and incredibly rewarding to be a business owner now,” she says.
She describes Zelma’s as a creative shop as much as a place for awards and engraving. With her graphic arts background, she says she delights in “elevating the look of it from being a conventional award to something that’s really, truly special.” She wants to be seen as a local creative resource, “if you have a wild and crazy idea you want to see come to life.”
Lingenfelter hasn’t been the only one to see something special in Michelle. While in college, the Tehama County Cattlewomen came calling with an offer for her to be a beef ambassador, “even thoughI’d never raised cattle before,” she says. “I’d raised everything but cattle.” They knew she’d be a quick study and that her enthusiasm and commitment would make her a stellar brand ambassador, though, and Michelle gave it her all.
“That was such a cool year,” she says. “I went on trips with the national team at least once a month. I went to all corners of the country. It definitely opened my eyes to what was out there. It also made me grateful for where I come from.”
Ten years ago, the Cattlewomen came calling again for a new event they were inaugurating, the Red Bluff Beef ‘N Brew. Michelle designed the logo for it and just recently did a brand refresh for the now iconic downtown event. “It’s a case study of a rebrand of a beloved brand in our hometown. It’s much more mature now. It looks really good. And it’s a reflection of how I’ve grown and changed in 10 years,” she says.
Michelle’s passion for her hometown runs high and she’s been actively giving back for years, serving as a youth soccer coach, as a member of the State Theatre’s technical team and on the leadership team of Expect More Tehama. She’s a living example of the mission of Expect More Tehama to provide opportunities for higher education to local youth and then opportunities for employment and engagement in the community upon graduation.
While Michelle has engaged with many of her business neighbors for years as a graphic designer for their various projects, she’s delighted to line up next to them in a brick and mortar building now as a shop owner herself. “Most of the businessowners are women, which is cool and empowering,” she says. “We bring all of this collective talent together.”
With an enthusiasm that is infectious, she says, “I’m just very fortunate that I am where I am right now.” •
Zelma’s Awards and Laser Engraving
206 Walnut Street, Red Bluff
(530) 527-7224 • www.zelmasawards.com