FRANKLIN, TN–Jan Hervey, a housewares-department stocker and occasional cashier at the Plank Road Target, expressed sadness Wednesday over the rapidly approaching end to her reign as employee of the month.

Target stocker Jan Hervey proudly displays her Employee Of The Month certificate.

"Where has July gone?" asked Hervey, 33, speaking from the store's break room. "I can't believe it's already the 19th. Before you know it, I'll be just another employee again."

After nearly three years of unrecognized service to the store, Hervey was finally nominated for the prestigious award by second-shift manager Paula Cushman, who cited the 31-year-old mother of four's "helpful attitude" and "solid attendance record" on a Target Employee Of The Month recommendation form. On July 1, store manager Brian Steeber announced over the store's P.A. system that Hervey had been selected.

"I'd always dreamed that someday it would be my face looking down at all the Target guests from that plaque at the front of the store," said Hervey, whose husband and children celebrated the news by treating her to dinner at Old Country Buffet. "On July 1, that wonderful day finally came. When Brian announced it over the loudspeaker, everyone came running over to my register to congratulate me. I felt so special!"

"July 1," added Hervey with a sigh. "Just 18 days ago."

After the announcement was made, Hervey was asked to report to the service desk, where she posed for a Polaroid photo that was slipped into the Target Employee Of The Month plaque that hangs near the store entrance.

"I had no idea I'd be getting my picture taken that day, or I would have used the curling iron before I left for work," Hervey said. "How could I have known, though? It's just not the sort of thing you wake up in the morning and expect to have happen to you."

The tradition of employee of the month at Target store #4551 carries with it a rich history. Since regional management instituted the program in 1996, a different employee has received the accolade every month. The only time the award was not given out was August 1999, when the plaque was stolen by a group of teenagers and had to be replaced.

Hervey shows off the plaque that hangs near the entrance of Target store #4551.

In addition to having her name and month of honor permanently engraved on a brass plate on the plaque for future generations to see, Hervey received a coupon for a free foot-long hot dog and junior fries from the Target snack bar.

"I haven't used my meal coupon yet," she said. "I'm planning to hold on to it for a little while longer. That way, after my month is up, I'll still have a little taste of the big time left to enjoy."

Despite the fact that she "wouldn't give this up for anything in the world," Hervey admitted that being employee of the month "hasn't been all cookies and ice cream." The last three weeks, she said, have been a time of intense introspection.

"After all those years of wishing and hoping for something like this, the only place left to go is down," said Hervey, whose last honor came in 1983, when she was named Monroe High School Swing Choir Most Valuable Member. "You struggle so long to get that brass ring, and then, when it's in your hand, you get a sort of blank feeling. It's like, what now?"

Hervey, however, has made an effort to keep such feelings of doubt to herself and focus on setting a good example for her coworkers.

"When you become employee of the month, you're suddenly thrust into the limelight and an entire staff of 97 people is looking up to you as a role model. That's a tremendous responsibility," Hervey said. "Target expects a lot from its employees, but those expectations become that much greater when you're employee of the month."

"Then there are those few jealous individuals who would just love to see you make a wrong step," she continued. "It's very exhausting to be on your toes every second of every shift."

Determined to prove herself deserving of the award, Hervey has tried to raise the level of her performance even higher. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed.

"Jan's really been hustling lately, straightening out the rows of laundry baskets and re-folding every towel and washcloth in sight," said fellow housewares stocker Brenda Steeber. "It's been a real chore for me to find something to do. It would be a real bitch if they downsized our department's staff."