Dotty, Dorothy, Barbara, and Ardelle share common bond as retired nurses[April 2023] You may find yourself softly humming “This Little Light of Mine” after reading the story by the same title in the first pages of our printed edition of FOUNDATIONS. I was struck by Steve Guttormson’s words, “Your little light makes a difference. And when you give to others, you are sharing and spreading the light.” That rang so true as I visited with four PioneerCare residents you are about to meet in the following paragraphs.
Once again, I was given the opportunity for an afternoon visit with some of PioneerCare’s most delightful residents. Let me introduce you to four extraordinary women whose “little lights” shone so brightly over the years as they lovingly cared for countless others in their careers in nursing.
These brave ladies overcame many obstacles to follow their various paths to caring for others. War, families, and household expenses were just some of those hurdles and they handled each with the strength and determination to see their dream realized.
Dorothy Porter, now 95, remembered her early days in nursing. “I began by doing six months of nursing with public health,” she said, “and then I decided it was time for a move.”
“After I retired, I would frequently see former students on the street or around town. You’d know them in a minute because they always called me Mrs. Porter, no matter how old they got.” – Dorothy Porter
That move was to a more than 20-year career as School Nurse. “They were so cute,” she remembered, “and there were a lot of them! Connie Rostad was the only other school nurse and between us, we served more than 4,000 students in seven schools. We just divided the kids, I guess, but I do remember being very busy.”
Dorothy seemed to reflect on those little faces she cared for over the years. “There was so much respect for us as school nurses,” said Dorothy, “and I remember most of them being pretty good kids, but you always seem to remember a few that weren’t, too. After I retired, I would frequently see former students on the street or around town. You’d know them in a minute because they always called me Mrs. Porter, no matter how old they got.”
Ardelle Holte remembers those early days, too, and her determination to become a nurse, even at age 37. “I was the oldest in my nursing class of 20 women,” she said, “but I think I was always a caregiver and a giving person and nursing was available at that time, so it just seemed to fit.”
Classes were held in the basement of the old library building in Fergus Falls. “You had to be interviewed before you got to be in the nursing class,” remembered Ardelle, “and I guess my interview went pretty well. My youngest child was eight at the time and it was hard to juggle school and a family. Thankfully for us, my mom and dad stayed with us that year to be with our boys.”
A new schedule quickly fell into place to keep the dream alive. “When I’d get home from class,” said Ardelle, “I’d help my mom make dinner. Then I’d get upstairs and study while they cleaned up from our meal. I made sure to save enough time each evening to spend with my husband and boys. We took our state boards in Minneapolis on the hottest day of the summer in a building that had no air conditioning. I guess all that didn’t really matter, as I found out I finished the test with the highest score in the class. Looking back, I think personally and as a family we did just fine and it was worth the extra effort on all our parts!”
Next, let me introduce you to Dorothy Boerhave, who quickly told me I could call her “Dotty.” My fingers couldn’t keep up on my laptop as Dotty began to share how it all began.
“I graduated from high school in 1946,” Dotty said, “and I went to St. Barnabas School of Nursing in 1949. The school was located just across from the Swedish Hospital in Minneapolis and it cost $240 for three years, including our uniforms.” It was war time. Things were different, more difficult. “It was a time when my future husband and I were apart, as he was in Hawaii and the war was just getting over,” explained Dotty, “I had one year of nursing school to go and a sister that was planning my wedding. My now husband finally got a flight out of Hawaii and we were married!” Dotty remembered being on the staff of the first recovery home at Rice Memorial. “I worked in the operating room there,” she explained, “until my husband, Don, said he thought it was necessary for him to go back to college. We moved to Boulder, Colorado, where he went to Engineering school. I remember about that time President Kennedy was shot and the whole world stopped. I’ll never forget.”
“I also remember driving to Minneapolis for our state board testing. I drove and had three other students with me. I was much more worried about driving in Minneapolis that I was about taking the test!” – Barbara Bjorgo
Dotty and her husband moved to Fergus Falls where she continued her nursing career working, once again, in the operating room. “Then everything changed as we made the decision to adopt; not one child, but eight in total! Don got to buy his station wagon and we enjoyed time together traveling across many states. Shortly after, Don died of a heart attack when our youngest was only nine. My kids and I had to decide: go on welfare or go back to work. I went back to work. I was so grateful for my nursing background. I loved caring for others and it allowed me to care for my family as well.”
And finally, I’d like you to meet Barbara Bjorgo. “I’ll tell you how it all started,” she explained, “I had four kids; My son was ten and my daughter was fourteen. They were the two youngest and I just decided it was time for me to learn something. I went to Otter Tail Nursing Home, where they provided me with on-the-job training.” She started as a nursing assistant.
Barb smiled as I asked about her job. “Well, my husband asked me how the first day went,” she said. “I told him if I make it through the week, I’ll make it all the way! I graduated in 1979 with my LPN degree at the Fergus Falls Community College. I celebrated my 45th birthday during all of this.” Barb remembers those days during her education. “I remember my son asking why I went back to school when I didn’t have to,” she said with a smile, “and I also remember driving to Minneapolis for our state board testing. I drove and had three other students with me. I was much more worried about driving in Minneapolis that I was about taking the test!”
Barb recalled going to every one of her son’s football games and going to the car to study during half time. “There were some wonderful days and some not so wonderful days,” she said, “but I just felt there was no halfway. I had to give it everything I had and I’m so glad I did.” While Barb loved her days as an LPN, it wasn’t always her dream. “I wanted to be a singer in a big band,” she said with a smile, “but I found this career in nursing is who I am. It brings me joy!” Barb came to PioneerCare after Brain surgery. “I knew the good Lord had given me a second chance and I feel safe and comfortable here at Pioneer. I’m just grateful for all I have and all I have been lucky enough to experience over the years.”
These four amazing women made a difference to so many people. They lovingly gave their time and care to people who needed them. Now it’s time for the favor to be repaid and the greatest of care is being shown to them as residents of PioneerCare. So what could these ladies offer to other young people who would consider a career in healthcare? They each had a piece of advice. Dorothy said you must be a good listener and have a kind heart. Ardelle wanted to say how important it is to have the support of your family. Barb wants potential nursing students to know it’s a great field. It’s wide open and the need is great…so go for it! And Dottie gave advice not to hesitate, saying she’d do it all over again.
Our heartfelt thanks to these four amazing women who were willing to shine their light to help others.
Written by Mary Dolan for PioneerCare