GRANITE FALLS - A good nurse can make a big difference in people's lives, which is why two sets of sisters felt called to join the profession. With a lot of determination and support, the four women are ready to put their passion to work, having graduated this week with an associate degree in nursing from Minnesota West Community and Technical College.
"We've had lots of events in our lives that have led us to the nursing field," Nicole Jacobson of Hanley Falls said. "My sister (Mindy Laleman) and I graduated from high school, then graduated from college, she as a medical secretary and I in child development. Then we went back together for nursing."
Laleman, who lives in Cottonwood, worked as a medical secretary at Affiliated Community Medical Centers clinic in Marshall for a number of years but always felt drawn to the nursing field, too.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
Two sets of sisters recently graduated with associate degrees in nursing from Minnesota West Technical and Community College — Mindy Laleman, left, and Nicole Jacobson, along with sisters Jessica Haak and Samantha Wee.
"I was widowed after my husband was killed in a car accident 10 years ago," Laleman said. "Then I found out I was pregnant with Hunter, and he came early. He was born at 30 weeks, so he spent 40 days in the Sioux Falls NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) at Sioux Valley.
"Just seeing how wonderful everybody there is, and how much care they gave him, was amazing. We had a wonderful nurse and she tugged at my heartstrings. I knew that's what I wanted to do."
Sisters Samantha Wee and Jessica Haak also made the decision to enter the nursing program after seeing how much of a positive impact nurses can have on patients and their families.
"I started because our grandma (Erma Schlorf) had cancer, and I saw the way nurses treated her and it really inspired me to be a nurse," said Haak, who lives in Redwood Falls. "Our aunt is also a nurse."
Haak originally started her college education at Ridgewater College in Willmar, but transferred over to Minnesota West.
"The first year I applied for the nursing program, I didn't get in because I didn't have enough generals done for it," she said. "So then I finished the generals. I applied, and Sam had applied and we both got in."
The sisters made an immediate connection with the other set of sisters, Laleman and Jacobson, who were accepted at the same time as well.
"Mindy and Nicole actually knew our mom from way back when, so we were happy to know somebody in the program. We all just clicked together," Haak said.
Like most professors, MnWest instructor Diane Vangsness cannot recall another time when the higher education institution had two sets of sisters going through the same program at the same time.
"I just think that it's wonderful," Vangsness said.
Wee said she actually started taking college classes her senior year at Redwood Valley High School. Now living in Cottonwood, Wee said she appreciated the support her sister gave her throughout the past four years.
"It's helped me a lot, knowing my sister knows me better than a lot of people, so knowing how I understand things, she's really helped me," Wee said. "If I don't understand something, I could call her and she'd explain it because she knows how I learn. It's been a lot of fun, to do this together, too."
Jacobson and Laleman spent four years educating themselves at Minnesota West.
"We went last year for our LPN (licensed practical nurse) and this year for the RN (registered nurse)," Jacobson said. "We've went a total of four years because you have generals you also need to take. But now we have our associate's degree."
Laleman describes the last four years as stressful but exciting. She's extremely grateful for a strong support system.
"I don't know if I could've done it without her (Jacobson)," Laleman said. "Three weeks into our LPN year, our dad died unexpectedly. It was quite a challenge, but we made it."
Laleman also credits her mom (Betty), God and her entire family for helping her balance her family, job and education.
"Everybody has been great," she said. "My boyfriend took care of Hunter while I did homework, too. There were a lot of nights of having Spaghettios for supper."
Jacobson also pointed out how difficult the past four years had been on her and her family. Like Laleman's son Hunter, Jacobson's four children attend Lakeview Public School.
"It was very hard, having to put my homework aside so I could help them with their homework," Jacobson said. "Afterwards, I'd start making supper and get everybody in bed. Then it was time for my homework."
Jacobson said she was very appreciative of the support from her sister, husband and mom.
"They've all been so supportive," she said. "I've always to go into nursing, so it was well worth it. I feel wonderful. And my family gets me back, now."
Along with her sister and other family members, Haak was also thankful for the guidance and support of the MnWest teachers.
"I think Minnesota West is a great program," Haak said. "They always tell you in high school that your college teachers won't care much about you, but they're really understanding about family events or a life event that comes up. They're very accommodating. They still have expectations of you, but they realize that you have a life, that it's not just about school. Things happen."
While Haak and Wee did a lot of online classes, Jacobson and Laleman did more ITV classes.
"I need a face," said Jacobson, who also noted the benefits of the simulation lab. "We have a simulation lab, which is set up with scenarios for you, and you have to be the primary nurse. You have to delegate who does what. It's great."
Ironically, the two sets of sisters have also been together for all their clinicals, too. While Granite Falls has served as the home base for the four women, they're also required to travel to Worthington, which is where the nursing program is based.
"We go to Worthington for labs and tests," Laleman said. "So we've done lots of ride sharing."
In addition to becoming friends for life, the two sets of sisters know they'll always have each other's support in the future.
"I've currently been working at Project Turnabout," Laleman said. "I've went from having my LPN to now having my RN. I'm excited about that."
Wee has been employed at Avera Marshall Specialty Clinic and will likely continue down that road in the future.
"Originally, they said I could rollover, so maybe I'll be doing that," she said. "It's a very good feeling to graduate. It's been a long road, but it's been very rewarding."
Haak is currently working at Wood Dale Nursing Home and plans to continue working there until after her September wedding.
"I can't believe that two years ago, we'd just gotten our acceptance letters for the nursing program, and now we're accomplishing our dreams," Haak said. "I'd love to get into something with little kids, like pediatrics or OB (obstetrics) or something. I think I'd really like that. There are just so many opportunities now."