I was born in 1979 in Mason City, Iowa – a small city located about 30 miles south of the Minnesota border.
My mom and dad both came from farming families – my dad likes to say we have "deep roots" in agriculture. My great grandpa Chess was Iowa's first John Deere dealer which grew into a an agri-business that sold seed, fertilizer, and supplies. My dad studied biology at Iowa State and University of Northern Iowa and developed an interest in water – watersheds, clean water systems, and municipal systems. My mom studied art education at Iowa State with a mind to escape small town life (Kanawha, Iowa: population 700) and became an art teacher.
Rising interest rates, falling land prices, high oil prices, and bank consolidations led to the decline of Iowa's economy in the late 1970s/early 1980s. A major agricultural crisis affected all of Iowa's economy, and, in 1983, my parents moved to Ohio in search of work with my two older siblings and me.
We moved to Marion, Ohio, a small city that reminded my parents of Mason City. My dad found work as a sales representative for a water analytic instrument manufacturer. My mom stayed at home and took care of us all. When I was 14, she went back to teaching art in our school district. Just like his dad, my dad was elected to school board. I was a quiet kid who was interested in art and kick butt at tetherball.
I graduated from high school in 1998 from Marion Harding High School and went to The Ohio State University to major in Fine Art. I had every intention of pursuing a career in art after graduation, with plans to move to New York City. But everything changed in September of 2001. As the economy shrank, my dream of making a career in artmaking seemed to fall further and further.
When I graduated in 2003, I stayed in Columbus and began working in special event, marketing, and web design. I worked for a growing small business for five years. I purchased my home near the OSU campus, taking advantage of a special loan put into place immediately after Obama took office, coupled with extremely low interest rates. At this time, I decided to start my own design business – Cowbell Design Services. My goal was to work with other small businesses and non-profits that needed quality, affordable marketing. I quickly got a couple of loyal clients.
These were very lean years as I built my business and tried to hold onto my house – juggling which bills to pay and which to put off until later. I learned a lot about running a small business, including a lot about crippling taxes and the struggle of living without health insurance. I was not making it, and when my biggest client offered me a full-time position with benefits, I took it.
A couple of years later, I was driving home from work, listening to the radio. It was dark when I went to work that morning, and it was dark on the drive home. It was my 34th birthday. A story came on about a palliative care doctor in Iowa named Tim Ihrig.
I started to cry as I realized that this man was doing valuable work – caring for people in their time of need – and I knew that I could do more with my life. I wanted to take care of the most vulnerable. I wanted to use my voice to be an advocate. I wanted to fight for those who needed a champion on their side.
After speaking with my best friend about this experience, she said, "It sounds like you need to be a nurse practitioner." She was right. I quit my full-time job, started taking classes, and went back to waiting tables.
It took me many years, but I finally I finished graduate school at The Ohio State University College of Nursing and am a Certified Family Nurse Practitioner. It was not easy. Mark, my partner of 17 years, was an invaluable part of my success. I am currently working at one of Ohio's largest integrative mental health service providers, serving one of the most vulnerable populations in our community. I am very proud of the work that I do everyday because I am finally fighting for those who need someone to care for them.
Turns out, that's what I was meant to do.