Last year, when the top three executives from McDonald’s corporate office visited the Green fast-food restaurant, local McDonald’s owner/operator John Blickle introduced the store manager as one of the winners of the company’s most prestigious prizes as a joke.

Nine months later, Blickle, holder of the area’s largest group of McDonald’s franchises with 20 stores, received a call.

“Well, your prediction was accurate,” the executive told Blickle, telling him that Tara Gengler, manager of his Green McDonald’s was a Ray Kroc Award winner.

The award is named for the executive who built the company and is given to the top performing McDonald’s managers in the country. Blickle was told the next person in the state to win the award — among 800 managers in the pool — “wasn’t even close.”

“They pick eight in Ohio out of 800. To have no one even close to her other than the other seven is incredible,” Blickle said.

The award, given to the top 1 percent or 142 managers nationwide, comes with a $2,500 cash prize, a trophy, ring and pin and a trip to Chicago for an awards gala next month. Rubber City McDonald’s, Blickle’s company, also matches the $2,500 prize for the award.

Officially, Gengler is in her fifth year with Rubber City McDonald’s. But Gengler actually worked for Rubber City McDonald’s predecessor starting in 1992 as a high school student at the area’s first McDonald’s in Ellet on East Market Street. Gengler stayed with that company for 10 years, working her way up to a first assistant manager before deciding she wanted to try a different career.

She went to work for Allstate for 3½ years in customer service, before deciding she had better opportunities for advancement with McDonald’s. She went to work for another local McDonald’s franchise owner, Tom Locke (whose company is TomTreyco), as general manager of stores near the former Rolling Acres mall and in Hartville.

Rubber City McDonald’s 20 locations are more centrally located for Gengler, who is married with two children.

Gengler, 40, came back to the company as a first assistant manager and rose to general manager at several locations, including Copley Road and Green. She oversees 64 employees in Green.

“McDonald’s has a job for everybody, whether it’s a parent supplementing their income or a high school student getting extra money or a college kid working his way through school, or you can choose to make it a career path,” Gengler said. “I’ve been through tons of top-notch training.”

Gengler said getting the award was a goal.

“This was my year. I’m really proud of what my team has done,” Gengler said.

Her goals include moving up in the McDonald’s corporation, perhaps as an area supervisor, though Gengler said being an owner-operator is not for her.

“That’s not in my cards,” she said.

Tracy Roberts, Rubber City McDonald’s operations manager, said Gengler’s customer satisfaction and local sales numbers were impressive.

“She cares about the company she works for and she cares about what people think of the brand. She doesn’t do this to just make Tracy look good, but the whole company look good,” Roberts said.

The Green store’s commitment to the community has been evident in activities, held every Thursday night, as a way for parents to bring in their kids for events and for the staff to educate the customers about fundraisers for the local Ronald McDonald House Charities.

The Green store’s donation boxes at the register for the Ronald McDonald House Charities increased by 23 percent in one year, raising just under $4,000. That was the largest raised in the franchise and second in Northeast Ohio, Roberts said.

Several employees and managers on Gengler’s staff, including her husband and son, also recently jumped in the Polar Bear Plunge, an event that partially benefitted the Ronald McDonald charity.

What Gengler does “is infect other people with that attitude,” Blickle said. “She’s just the complete package.”

Gengler becomes the fifth Ray Kroc Award winner for Rubber City McDonald’s. She is the only Akron-area winner this year.

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blinfisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty