When Nina Griffith was named the City of Hesperia's Employee of the Year at the December 9 Hesperia City Council meeting, she looked up at the camera that transmits the meetings out over the Internet and said hi to her family.

At the time, they were 5,744 miles away, in Griffith's hometown of Berlin, Germany.

And asleep.

"It was 3 a.m. in the morning there," Griffith said, a month later. "They were planning on" being awake.

Griffith, now an engineering aide, had won first Employee of the Month and then Employee of the Year for her work as an office assistant working for City Engineer John R. Leveillee for the past two years.

"Her optimistic attitude, vivacious personality, and sharp mind immediately made a positive impression not only on me, but on every other staff member with whom she interacted," said Leveillee. "Her job performance was so outstanding that she was chosen as employee of the month on her first nomination the month after clearing probation. I have received numerous compliments from residents and staff on how Nina performs her job as well as how she represents both the engineering division and the city of Hesperia. She was truly the most deserving individual to receive the Employee of the Year."

Griffith's road to Hesperia City Hall began the year after she graduated high school in Berlin. Although she had received a degree that would have gotten her into college, she was schooled out, at least at the time.

She had been an exchange student in Canada one year in high school, so she thought a return trip to North America might be just what she was looking for. For a year, she worked as an au pair (a live-in nanny, typically a foreign student) in several American cities, ending in Boston, which was a cheaper alternative (and less of a visa hassle) than attending an American university.

"Three weeks before I went back home, I met a guy, which my mom hates him for."

Specifically, she and some other au pairs were touring the American east coast, and they decided to make a day trip to Annapolis, Maryland, home of the United States Naval Academy, and lots of bright and fit young men in sharp uniforms.

Three weeks later, Griffith was back in Berlin, but she had left her heart in Annapolis.

Her family "soon found out about Jake. I would spend all my time instant-messaging him."

Despite only spending two days together in person, they spent four months together talking to each other over the Internet every day. They were engaged in 2001, a year before he graduated college, and married in 2003.

Her friends were a little surprised.

"In Germany, you don't get married that early," she said. "Plus we had never lived together, not even for one day."

Her husband, now an officer in the United States Marine Corps, was posted to the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Barstow, and the girl who had grown up in a chilly and wet city in eastern Germany got her first taste of life in the Mojave Desert.

"When I flew over the mountains, and into the desert, I cried," Griffith said. "It was difficult to get used to the heat."

But get used to it, she did.

"Now I'll wear my scarf in June," she said. "I went back [to Germany] in May, and I thought it was cold, and they were saying 'it's so warm!'"

But if she was isolated from her friends and family, so was her husband, who was born and raised in Iowa.

"So I have him and my bunnies."

The couple has now put down roots of their own in California, and her husband left the Marine Corps and is beginning a career in law enforcement.

"Now that they did this," she said, tapping the wooden Employee of the Year plaque, "I can't say goodbye!"

And she's managed to find most of the tastes of home, from the dense bread rolls that Germans eat for breakfast, to the black bread they enjoy. She hasn't been able to find quark, though -- a type of white curd cheese.

"The closest I could find is cream cheese," said Griffith. "But cream cheese is nothing close."

And she's also found a lot to like about America, including something that has spoken to immigrants for 200 years. Germans have their own way of describing the American dream: In America, one can go from being a dishwasher to a millionaire.

"It really is true," Griffith said. "I was 24 when I came here [to get married] and we were able to buy cars and a little house. Nobody in my friends has a car our a house before they're 28."

German-born Nina Griffith has begun the process of becoming an American citizen.

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.