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'I am going to be a phenomenal nurse.' Here’s what set her on that path

April 26, 2021
By Tim Engle

Angela Bennett with her daughter Abby

Angela Bennett, here with her daughter Abby, will complete the practical nursing program at Metropolitan Community College’s site in St. Joseph this summer. She recently won a $1,000 AAUW "reentry woman" scholarship. (Photo by Sarah Kurtz)

Back in 2015, Angela Bennett was in "what some would call a transitional phase in my life." She was directionless.

A 94-year-old woman she had never met would change that.

The woman’s name was Pansy. Pansy’s family had moved their loved one into their home, but she required round-the-clock companionship. Was Bennett interested in an elder-care job? Yes, it turned out. One evening with the nonagenarian convinced her she had found her calling.

Bennett hadn’t known she had such a spot in her heart for older people until she got to know Pansy. The two would become close.

"I spent a year of evenings with her, but when she passed, I wasn’t quite sure what the next step was," Bennett wrote in an essay for a college scholarship.

Bennett, 45, hails from the state of Washington (the Seattle area) but these days lives in Oregon — Oregon, Missouri, about 25 miles northwest of St. Joseph. As a result of her experience with Pansy, she landed a job at the Oregon Care Center and became a certified nursing assistant (CNA).

This summer, Bennett will complete a certificate in practical nursing at Metropolitan Community College’s location in St. Joseph.

And … she recently won that Reentry Woman Scholarship Award, presented annually by the Greater Kansas City Interbranch Council of the American Association of University Women. Bennett’s award was $1,000.

Recipients "exemplify the effort, perseverance and courage of the mature woman who returns to the classroom in pursuit of personal and vocational goals."

As Bennett explains in her AAUW essay, "I came from a good family plagued with the incapacity to make very good decisions." When she found out she was pregnant at 36, "I knew that I had some big girl decisions to make."

She relocated from Seattle in 2014 to "try my hand at a simpler life in rural Missouri," where a family member lived. In doing so, she cut ties with other family and the financial safety net they provided.

When she signed the lease for her first apartment in Missouri, she says she didn’t own a bath towel — or a bed. But "from that moment I have spent every ounce of energy and every penny very wisely to show my daughter that the only way to build a life you are proud of is to do it for yourself."

Bennett has demonstrated "remarkable resilience and dedication" at MCC in St. Joseph, student services coordinator Lisa Clenin says. "She has an intense desire to learn, grow and to realize her full potential."

She’s also tenacious. She’ll find answers. "Too often, students can struggle through college because they are afraid to ask questions or ask for help," Clenin says.

For Bennett’s part, she says Clenin "is worth 1,000 people … I’ve never felt alone, which is a big deal for me." MCC, she adds, has been "such a wonderful school for me to restart my education."

A virtual reception April 17 honored this year’s recipients of AAUW’s Reentry Woman Scholarship Award.

"Winning this scholarship means so much to me," Bennett says. "I have done some research on the organization, and they do amazing things for women around the country."

What’s next? She plans to earn an associate degree in nursing and maybe a bachelor’s degree later. For now, she intends to keep working at the nursing home in her adopted Missouri hometown.

"Academic awards are nice," she wrote in the essay, "but when I see the pride on my 8-year-old daughter’s face when she tells her friends that her mom is almost a nurse, I know that there is no award in the world that could replace that feeling. I know that I am going to be a phenomenal nurse."