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From Liberia to Minnesota: Reflections of a Small-Town Nurse

Grand marais sunrise Getty Images 1309071422

My father is a retired surgeon. He ran a mission hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, and moved the family there in 1975. I grew up on a palm-lined, West African beach. 

Timothy Young, LPN

As a child, I helped out in the pediatric ward and sometimes watched my dad perform surgery. That’s how I learned that I am not squeamish, which planted the seed for my future in nursing. Though it would be a long time before it became a reality. 

After graduating in 1978 from the American Cooperative School in Liberia, I returned to the U.S. and attended Bible school and art school in Michigan. 

The arts first, then nursing

In the mid-‘80s, I moved to the remote town of Grand Marais, Minnesota, on the western shore of Lake Superior. Grand Marais, with a population of less than 1,300 people and only one stop light, has been described as the coolest small town in America. 

Built on lumber and fishing, it’s a beautiful town surrounded by the Superior National Forest — a place where you can become whatever you want to be. Here is where I discovered my artistic path. I am a painter and am best known for painting fish in the branches of trees. 

There wasn’t a college in the area, and online learning wasn’t an option at the time, so returning to school never crossed my mind. But years later when online learning became an option, I entered a practical nursing program. 

At 50 years old, I was finally fulfilling a dream — one that I had kept in the back of my mind for 30 years and that was going to help me create a better life for myself and my daughter.

Living in a tiny town, I had to do much of my schooling online, but I also made frequent trips to the Itasca Community College campus in Grand Rapids, Minnesota — a three-hour drive each way. I was afraid the whole time that I would not succeed. 

Being the oldest student in my class, I wondered if I would be able to keep up with the younger students, but we all got along well. I had already been mentoring high school students for over 20 years, so I took on an unofficial role as a mentor to my fellow students, particularly the ones from Africa. 

I graduated with honors and was the commencement speaker for the class of 2012. 

I owe a debt of gratitude to the staff at Cook County Higher Education in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. They held my hand and guided me through the process. They even coached me in math. 

There were certainly challenges, but I was determined. 

I not only wanted to achieve my personal educational goals, but I wanted to set an example for my daughter, who was struggling in high school. 

A growing family

Following graduation, I worked for eight years in long-term geriatric care. My daughter grew up and moved away, as children do. I didn't want to be an empty nester. My heart and my home were open, and I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others in both my professional and personal lives. 

Just as I thought I was too old to go back to school, I also thought I was too old to adopt children. But my daughter cheered me on. I just kept telling my caseworker to put the next hoop in front of me, and I would jump through it. 

I adopted a teenager with special needs and became the legal guardian for his sister. This meant I could no longer work nights, so I became the school nurse for our local school district. This way, I had the same schedule as my kids. 

My story is unique, as is everyone’s. My hope is that other people will hear my story and follow their dreams despite the obstacles. 

I have spoken with students at career fairs on behalf of nursing, and I often tell them this: There has never been anyone just like you in the whole history of the universe. Your strengths and your weaknesses are gifts that no one else possesses. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how young you are. You are incredibly special whether you realize it or not. If I can do this, you can too.

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