Matt Gain discovered his love of science at an early age by tinkering with anything he could get his hands on, taking apart the telephone or stereo when his parents were out.

Gain, who has taught chemistry and physics at Geneva Middle School South for 16 years, hopes to inspire that same fascination for science by incorporating storytelling and characters into his lessons to make them interesting and memorable. He was named the top Kane County Educator of the Year on Friday.

"We stand on the shoulders of great people in our past, past teachers, our family, current teachers and students they all make us who we are," Gain said in his acceptance speech.

"What drove me to teaching versus working in a lab was the interactions with students," he said. "It's not that I'm just there to give them information. It's also that there is a deeper relationship that happens too that makes each day different and exciting."

The Kane County Regional Office of Education honored 44 outstanding educators Friday at the 42nd annual Educator of the Year awards ceremony Friday in St. Charles.

Gain will receive a $3,000 grant from the regional office for use in his classroom or toward further education. He also will get a personalized director's chair, an engraved Bulova clock and $200 from the Kane County Credit Union.

Awards also were presented to finalists in the categories of top early career; preschool, elementary, middle school and high school educators; school administrator; student support personnel; and educational service personnel.

The 2017 award recipients are:

• Regional superintendent: Alice Froemling, English and language arts, St. Charles North High School, District 303; Cindy Miller, physical education and health, Kaneland High School, Maple Park, District 302

• Early career educator: Angellica Ahng, seventh-grade science, Cowherd Middle School, Aurora, District 131

• Preschool teacher: Ivonne Serrano, early childhood, O'Donnell Elementary School, Aurora, District 131

• Elementary teacher: Mary Jensen, music, Alice Gustafson Elementary School, Batavia, District 101

• Middle school teacher: Amy O'Herron, sixth-grade math, Carpentersville Middle School, District 300

• High school teacher: Mike Schmidt, social studies, Burlington Central High School, District 301

• School administrator: Suzanne Johnson, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, Elgin Area School District U-46

• Educational service: Debra Brannon, administrative assistant, St. Charles North High School, District 303

• Student support: Bruce Fraser, library information specialist, West Aurora High School, District 129

This year's nominees were the largest contingent in the awards' history. All nominees received an engraved plaque.

Last year's Kane County Educator of the Year was Holly Yee, a seventh-grade science teacher at Ellis Middle School in Elgin, who was among 29 educators honored in 2016.