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Paynesville Press -July 12, 2006

Distinguished alumni award recipient:
Sue Warner

By Melissa Andrie

Sue (Hendrickson) Warner's experience with education began in a one-room schoolhouse south of Paynesville, which she attended through sixth grade.

Sue Warner After that simple rural start, she became valedictorian of Paynesville High School's Class of 1969, earned several higher education degrees, including her doctorate, and has been on staff at nursing programs for three different universities.

Sue (Hendrickson) Warner (Class of 1969)

Her latest work, at St. Cloud State University (SCSU), has even brought her back to the Paynesville area, where she is living on the south shore of Lake Koronis, on property she purchased from an aunt.

Warner, who is a licensed registered nurse in three states, came to SCSU to start the Department of Nursing Science, which graduated its third class of students this spring. She was happy in the position she held as an associate dean and professor at the School of Nursing for the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, but first considered coming to St. Cloud because she knew there was a need for a nursing program in the area.

Prior to the start of classes for the program's first group of students in January 2002, Minnesota had no publically supported baccalaureate nursing degree programs in public schools anywhere north of the Twin Cities. Warner came, created the entire program from scratch, and got it fully nationally accredited, all from offices near where her great-grandmother, Ellen, the first of her Hendrickson ancestors to come to the area, crossed the Mississippi while walking from Grantsburg, Wis., as an 11-year-old in 1867.

Her family's long heritage in this area includes her grandfather Dewey Pederson's part in founding the Lake Koronis Regional Park, which included land originally owned by both sides of her mother's family, the Pedersons and the Jacobsons.

Warner's mother Dorothy (Pederson) Hendrickson - who still lives on the family farm where Warner and her three siblings grew up - was a nurse, but Warner did not consider nursing until she was backpacking across Europe the summer after her sophomore year at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.

While on a train, she spent a day talking to a retired nurse, and, because she found the woman's story intriguing, she began to consider nursing. Upon her return to this country, she applied to the nursing program at the University of Minnesota, was accepted, and finished her bachelor of science in nursing in 1974.

After a short time in the neonatal unit at the University of Minnesota, she knew that she would prefer keeping people well over helping those already ailing. When Warner and her first husband moved to Vermillion, S.D. in 1975, she took a job teaching in the nursing program at the University of South Dakota.

Warner returned to Minnesota for a short time to complete a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Certification from the U of M and then went back to Vermillion. While living there until 1998, she worked at the University of South Dakota in a number of positions, most notably as chair of the Department of Nursing for 14 years.

Political advocacy became very important to her while she was in South Dakota. At one point, the university was going to close the nursing program, and Warner worked with others to show the need for the program and to pass a bill keeping it open. Her work in health policy also included advising both of South Dakota's senators on the topic and chairing a national advisory council on nursing education, which she said provided her with "cutting-edge information."

During her years in South Dakota, Warner also worked closely with Native American populations in the state. One of her biggest accomplishments in that area was securing a $1.2 million grant to work with the Oglala Lakota college to educate Native American nurses.

The four nursing outreach sites created in different South Dakota cities during Warner's time as chair of the department honed skills that she later used while beginning the program at SCSU. Finding out what each community needed and creating the means to deliver it taught her to start up programs, which involves many details, even when a branch of an existing program is created, she said.

In 1998, Warner went from South Dakota to the other side of Minnesota when she became an associate dean of the nursing school in Eau Claire for the University of Wisconsin. She didn't stay there long, though, because a challenge awaited her in St. Cloud.

When she arrived at SCSU in the summer of 2000, "there wasn't a piece of paper, there wasn't a pencil, there wasn't an office," remembers Warner. She was "starting from absolute scratch" and appreciated all the background knowledge she had gained.

At first, Warner worked mostly alone, helped part of the time by a faculty member of the biology department. And work she did. The funding she had counted on fell through when the state went into deficit, so she raised money to cover costs, in addition to talking to "community people" all around the area to discover the needs the program ought to fill and taking care of the "unbelievable amount of detail" involved.

With state money unavailable, Warner went to federal congressmen, getting two different representatives to write in appropriations for the program for a total of three write-ins over two years, amounting to nearly $1 million. Her grant writing skills also paid off, and, with a final boost from private donors, enough was raised.

One trick to the fundraising was her ability to show the need for a nursing program in St. Cloud, because it was "a really compelling case," Warner said. She also drew together a great team for support, and readily shared that "nobody ever does anything alone. You're a group leader, but you pull in people."

The other secret was good communication. "You lay the groundwork, you talk to people, you tell them your needs, you keep in contact with them," she explained.

With money raised and a direction for the program in mind, Warner turned to the curriculum, which had to satisfy requirements of the university, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities school system, and the Minnesota Board of Nursing. Through the hard work of many people, it was written, and the first graduating class from the five-semester program had full national accreditation.

Twenty students graduated in the first class in 2004. The next year, that number jumped to 33, and this past spring it was 37. There are likely 150 qualified applicants for the 40 spots available for the coming year, according to Warner, which she attributes partially to a "backlog of interest," because no such program was available here before.

However, this is also a growing area, and she noted that there is a greater need for nurses. A pilot 18-month accelerated program will begin this fall, with eight participants who have already earned a four-year degree in a different subject.

Students in the SCSU program get cross-cultural and global health training, clinical experiences, and a lot of technology, especially in the learning lab that Warner calls "one of the best in the state." All of these students can't learn without guidance, and the one-and-a-half person staff from the beginning has expanded to 11 faculty members, with more currently being hired.

The 12 hours she put in every day for weeks made the work rough, and she said when it was really difficult, she reminded herself of the reason behind her work and of the community waiting to benefit from it.

Her work paid off, she added, because the program does benefit the greater community. Students from the area are coming to the program, and Warner mentioned how much she enjoys being able to "see that the goal of the program is being borne out."

The joy of her successes is shared by her family and friends. Two of her three children, Erik and Andrea, are earning graduate degrees, while the third, Brook, works for an innovative technology company in the Twin Cities. With her mother and other relatives near, Warner enjoys being back in the Paynesville area and in her "lovely" new house on the lake.

She is no longer chair of SCSU's nursing department, having stepped away from that role in 2005 to let her life balance out after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in the fall of 2003. Surgery removed most of the tumor, and she is recovering well but wanted to get away from some of the extra duties given to a department chair.

Warner said the program, of which she is still considered the "informal leader," is balancing out as well, and she is very committed to its development.

It seems that more university committees may be in store for Warner. She would like to do further work with Native American communities and has begun a relationship with the American Indian Center in St. Cloud, with a goal of addressing the disparities in health and health service to native populations.

Global health is also of concern to her, but for now, she plans to work on those things from her office by the Mississippi. The Department of Nursing Science hopes to start a graduate program soon, and Warner plans to take part.

As she said about initiating the nursing department, it's rather invigorating to "take everything you've learned and everything you know and shape something that benefits your community."

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