Former Nurse Goes Full-Circle at Aase Haugen

By Zakary KrienerAn image of Mary Henry sitting in a Wheelchair holding an image of Aase Haugen
Posted with permission from The Ossian Bee newspaper.

It all began over 75 years ago. A story that eventually came full circle for 100-year-old Mary Henry.

“At the age of 24, I applied for a job at the old Aase Haugen country home because I needed a job to help support my family,” explained Henry, a mother of four and now a grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great-grandmother to many more. “I never imagined that it would turn into a career for me.”

Henry went on to work a long career in nursing and now, she resides at Aase Haugen Home located in Decorah – the very same place her career began.

“I started working for Aase Haugen as a dietician and the administrator, Reverend Virgil Hougen, told me that if I went back to school to become a nurse, he would hire me (to work as a nurse),” said Henry, who grew up on a farm near Waucoma. “I asked him how he knew that he would want to hire me or that I’d be any good as a nurse, and he said ‘I’ve watched you work and you always show up on time. I can tell you have potential to become a nurse.”

Henry spent the next year studying at Area One – now Northeast Iowa Community College – in Calmar.

“I was 25 and was the oldest one in my class at the time,” she recalled. “After a year, I took the State Boards and did the best in my class!”

Henry spent the following years working as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at Aase Haugen Home at its country location. During those years, she gained enough experience and took several additional classes and eventually became a registered nurse (RN).

In 1963, the Decorah Retirement Center was built inside the city limits of Decorah, and Mary moved to the new facility to continue working as a nurse.

The original country Aase Haugen Home closed several years later in 1974 and the Decorah Retirement Center was renamed to Aase Haugen Home.

“I remember that it was a difficult time for the residents of the original Aase Haugen Home,” noted Henry. “That place will always hold a place in my heart. I built a lot of great relationships with residents and fellow workers there.”

Mary continued to work at Aase Haugen Home for many years before she later took a position as an in-home care nurse for Winneshiek County Public Health. At the age of 77, she retired from her nursing career.

“Last year, I moved here to Aase Haugen and immediately felt comfortable and like I was right at home,” said Henry. “There are still three workers here that I worked with when I was here, and everyone else is friendly. It truly is my home, in more than one way.”

Henry celebrated her 100th birthday at Aase Haugen in Oct. 2018, and was thrilled to be greeted by many family members and friends.

“Throughout my career as a nurse, I built a lot of great relationships with my patients,” said the retired RN. “I’ve lived here less than a year, but I’ve met a lot of CNAs (certified nurses aide), LPNs, and RNs that I have built special relationships with. We may have switched places from when I was younger, but it’s still important to have a great relationship between a patient and caregiver.”

Henry went on to say that her over 50 years of nursing experience has often come in handy for young caregivers at Aase Haugen today.

“I’ve offered advice to the nurses and really do enjoy being able to help them out and help them learn,” continued Mary. “It’s an honorable feeling knowing that they trust me and come to me for advice or help. I really enjoy that.”

While her over 100-year-long story is still being written, Mary Henry is proud to look back on a long and successful career that has recently come full circle.

“Similar to when I worked here many years ago, the environment here is very enjoyable and tight-knit,” closed Henry. “All of us, the workers and the residents – we are family. That’s an important thing for me. I enjoy having the feeling of being right at home.”