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NNA 2007 Notary Of The Year Joan Sampson: A Look Back


While nominations for the 2015 Notary of the Year continue, we take a look back at 2007’s award recipient, Joan Sampson of Sheridan, California.

(Originally published in the March 2007 issue of The National Notary magazine.)

When it comes to notarial professionalism, Joan Sampson does more than just talk about it. She lives it.

For the past 30 years, she has been fiercely dedicated to preserving the integrity of the Notary office. She’s the notarial expert at her job with a real estate development company. She’s also a Certified Notary Signing Agent and runs three separate action groups to educate fellow Notaries and promote the professional responsibility that comes with the commission.

But there is much more to Sampson than being a professional Notary.

The Sheridan, California, resident volunteers to help send hundreds of care packages to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. She uses her time away from work to make quilts that, through her church group, are donated to the needy. Sampson is a loving wife, mother and grandmother, and emphasizes that family always comes first.

Because of her dedication to professionalism, her benevolence to her community and to the less fortunate, her strict adherence to ethics and her sense of obligation to mentor fellow Notaries, Joan Sampson has been named the National Notary Association’s 2007 Notary of the Year.

Her resolve comes from personal experience and ever-present observation.

“Professionalism is suffering very badly in the workplace, along with ethics. I think it’s difficult for anyone who is a Notary because they’re constantly being challenged to maintain their integrity,” Sampson said.

Her first major challenge on that front arose in 1984 when her moral foundation came under attack by an employer. She was working in the real estate field and was tasked with notarizing a variety of documents.

One day, her boss ordered her to notarize an incomplete deed. She refused. Her boss balked at this “insubordination” and demanded that she perform the notarization. Sampson called the NNA Hotline and confirmed she was doing the right thing. Her boss yelled.

“He said I had to do it,” said Sampson. “I said I won’t do it. It is not right, and I won’t notarize it.”

Her boss didn’t fire her that day, but she lost her job of five years shortly after — a hefty price to pay for maintaining her principles. She kept her head high and forged ahead in her career, always keeping the experience fresh in her mind.

“When I interview for a job, I always tell my bosses that I will do anything as long as it’s not immoral or illegal,” she said. To that end, Sampson has earned the utmost respect.

“Joan is by far the most honest person I’ve ever known, next to my mom,” said Jeff Pemstein, Sampson’s current supervisor of two and a half years at Towne Development of Sacramento, Inc.

“She’s so passionate, committed and diligent. That’s why I think the NNA couldn’t have picked a better Notary of the Year.”

A Full Life

Even a quick glance at Sampson’s day-to-day routine gives the impression that she functions at a pace that would leave two people exhausted.

She works full time at Towne Development, where she assists Pemstein and manages the office.

She also performs between 300 and 500 real estate-related notarizations for the company each year — in addition to her assignments as a Notary Signing Agent. As if that weren’t enough, she and her husband of 45 years, Lee, decided in 2000 to build a new home on a multi-acre tract outside of town — with their own hands.

“This kid has her own tool belt,” Sampson proudly quipped about herself. “We framed the house ourselves, roofed it ourselves — you name it, we did it. I painted doors until I thought I was going to scream.”

Such dedication has been the nature of Sampson’s life with her husband and her family, which is firmly rooted in closeness and teamwork.

Sampson and her husband met on a blind date when she was 16, and they remain such close friends and partners that he accompanies her to all the NNA Conferences she attends — 11 and counting. They have three sons — John, 43; Jeff, 41; and Joel, 36; all engineers — and six young grandchildren to dote on.

And she still finds to time to indulge her passion for quilting with her church group. Sampson’s love of sewing dates back to a life lesson she learned at age 12. After she lost two sweaters she couldn’t afford to replace, her mother said, “Obviously you don’t respect your clothes, so you will earn the money and buy your own,” Sampson recalled. “I quickly learned I couldn’t buy very much with a 35-cents-an-hour babysitting job, so I learned how to sew.”

Community Activist

But quilting is more than a hobby. It’s another way Sampson gives back to her community. The church group gives the quilts they make to the needy, such as the women and children of Acres of Hope, a homeless shelter. As a child, Sampson learned about the importance of altruism from the examples set by her grandmother, who taught Sunday school, and her mother, who volunteered for a variety of activities in their community.

“They were people I looked up to, and I followed that example. It became a part of my life,” said Sampson. She’s also an Ambassador for the Community Outreach Council of the Building Industry Association (BIA). Through the BIA, Sampson is involved in sending hundreds of care packages to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. “The one thing that people have the hardest time doing anymore is giving their time. It’s very easy to donate money,” she said. “We can all sit down and write a check ... but it’s more important to donate your time. It has a more lasting effect.”

Notary Mentor

Of course, that desire to help others spills over into her role as an NNA Notary Ambassador® — a position she uses to educate her fellow Notaries and help them deal with the same kind of issues she has faced in her career.

Sampson leads three separate monthly Notary action group meetings, all free of charge, in the Sacramento area — each attended by about 30 Notaries — as a local resource for education and support. She prepares for the meetings by having a discussion topic, a quiz, handouts and updates ready for her attendees.

Group member Cheryl Palazinni said the discussions and brainstorming sessions have raised her understanding of how to handle issues that may come up during signings and notarizations.

“Joan has been very proactive in leading our group. She is tireless in her efforts to help myself and others become more mindful of our duty to the public as a Notary,” said Palazinni.

The groups meet to also discuss the aspects of new Notary laws. Keeping up with state statutes is not only a Notary’s ministerial and legal responsibility, but also a moral duty, Sampson said.

“The consequences are that we’re bound by law. If you do not take your Notary duties seriously, and something happens and you have not done your due diligence, you are subject to fines, your bond,” she said. “There can be administrative and civil penalties also.”

She has a simple litmus test for herself and for other Notaries to help gauge gray areas when asked to perform notarizations. “If you think it’s wrong, it probably is, and you shouldn’t do it,” said Sampson.

For notarial advice in those situations, she recommends talking to another experienced Notary or calling the NNA Hotline. Sampson sees making herself available to Notaries as a part of her professional obligations. Difficult situations that crop up while working in the field can’t always be anticipated in a meeting setting. “I have been able to reach Joan at any time when a question arises. She always returns calls promptly,” said Phyllis Blevins, another member of Sampson’s action groups. “She’s always encouraging, helpful and available. She takes her commission very seriously.”

Sampson’s husband Lee marvels at his wife’s energy, zeal and selflessness. “Running three action groups doesn’t seem to faze her in the least,” he said. “Joan enjoys it, and obviously she’s not there for anything for herself, monetarily. It’s just a matter of sharing information. Joan does things for people not because there’s anything in it for her. That’s relatively unimportant. It’s all for somebody else.”

Irene Haas, who met Sampson in grade school and grew up with her, said Sampson is steadfast and completes any task she puts her mind to.

“One thing that I could say about her — one thing that I would emulate — is that she sets a goal and she completes it. She makes it happen.”

Sampson also never tires of adding to her wealth of notarial knowledge by continuing her own education and training.

When she was hired by Pemstein in 2004, she let him know she’d need to take a few days off almost immediately to attend the NNA Conference in Philadelphia. She went with his support.

“I never come away from a Conference without having learned something,” she said. “Especially right now, with the way the Notary position is moving into the electronic age, and that is just a whole new area that we all need to learn about. I’m used to the pen and ink, but electronic notarization is here to stay. It’s going to be the wave of the future.”

Dedicated To Principles

Sampson’s ethics, character and attention to detail were shaped in part by her parents. Born in San Mateo, California, Sampson explained that her mother had high expectations for the family and was uncompromising about that. Sampson’s father was a stickler for punctuality, and that’s a trait she carries with her today.

“I’m always on time, or early if at all possible, for my assignments or signings. People appreciate punctuality because often they have set aside a specific amount of time to do this,” said Sampson. “Also, sometimes they’re accommodating me in order to be there, so for me to be late is disrespectful of their time.”

She still never allows herself to be hurried through a notarization, because it can lead to mistakes. “The most important thing about being a Notary is being thorough,” she said. Sampson has a motto she uses when performing any kind of notarization for her clients: “I get what I need before you get what you want.”

She is uncompromising in making sure she fills out her journal entry and obtains the client’s signature and thumbprint, if necessary.

“Because once they get what they want, they’re not too anxious to give you what you need, especially if they’re in a hurry,” Sampson said. “I think the most important thing when performing a notarization is to take your time, be conscientious, be responsible.”

What she loves most about her work is “meeting and helping people.” She said being named the NNA’s Notary of the Year means so much to her, and she acknowledged that she has “some big shoes to fill.”

And she won’t be resting on her laurels.

“Success is like housework,” Sampson said, “you have to work at it every day.”

View All: NNA News


Add your comment

Deborah Massey

09 Dec 2014

So inspiring! Wonderful that Mrs. Sampson stuck to her principles. A great role model for ALL notaries! Thank you for sharing this. dm

Joan Sampson

09 Dec 2014

Thank you NNA for the highest honor I've ever received and for re-visiting what was a very special moment in my life.

Jan Arvio (DeVoti)

20 Dec 2014

I knew when I read this article it was the same Joan Sampson I had worked with in 1968 at Alameda County Schools Office. Joan was a perfectionist and one of the most honest persons I was fortunate to befriend. Congrats Joan. Jan

S. F. Brown

27 Mar 2015

Would like to know 2015 dates for Joan Sampson's Notary Action Group Meetings in Sacramento, CA.

National Notary Association

27 Mar 2015

Hello! If you can please email us your contact information at, we'll be happy to pass on your message to Joan.

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