Kathy Miller (3rd Quarter, 2005)

by Josh Barsch on August 20, 2010

3rd Quarter, 2005
Dale E. Fridell Scholarship Winner
Kathy Miller
University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh

Without a post secondary education my dream of being a nurse would never come to fruition. I firmly believe in the powerful message of Ecclesiastes 3:1 – that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. Throughout momentous, life-altering events like discovering my husband attempting to hang himself in the garage just months after the birth of our first daughter, his subsequent diagnosis of schizophrenia, my own struggle with the disease Lupus, and then finally burying my husband, Andrew, just two years ago.


A Portion of Kathy’s Winning Essay:

Without a post secondary education my dream of being a nurse would never come to fruition. I firmly believe in the powerful message of Ecclesiastes 3:1 – that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. Throughout momentous, life-altering events like discovering my husband attempting to hang himself in the garage just months after the birth of our first daughter, his subsequent diagnosis of schizophrenia, my own struggle with the disease Lupus, and then finally burying my husband, Andrew, just two years ago I have always found solace and purpose in that verse. It suggests that there is meaning to every event, from birth to death, happiness to grieving. My life is in many ways a testament to Ecclesiastes 3:1, and my purpose is to become a psychiatric nurse.

Kathy Miller

As the oldest of six children, I never believed that I could afford to go to college. I worked hard in high school and received high marks in many classes, but I lacked the confidence to attempt a bachelor’s degree so I studied accounting and stenography at Fox Valley Technical College in Appleton. After marrying Andrew at age 21, I had planned on continuing to work and eventually have children. I was working as an Income Maintenance worker for Waushara County Department of Social Services when I learned we were expecting our first child. After Andrew was hospitalized, I was forced to continue to work to provide financial support to my family. Life was difficult with his chronic mental illness, but I found much joy in being a mother to my daughter, Amber. Two years later our second and last child, Ashlyn, was born.

Schizophrenia is both stigmatizing and debilitating, and the doctors gave my husband little hope in regaining his sanity. Swallowing my shock and sorrow, I devoted myself to making the most of our marriage, while grieving the loss of the man I once knew. I intensively researched Schizophrenia, learning as much as I could about its progression. Soon it was apparent that Andrew could not care for himself without my constant supervision.

I applied my knowledge to the care of my husband, providing him with the twenty-four-hour attention that he required. Unfortunately, stress and improper diet took its toll, and I was diagnosed with Lupus in 1991.


Being such an intimate witness to the struggle of life and death left me with a deep sense of human fragility. I realized that the human body is incredibly delicate and complex. Working closely with doctors, studying medical texts and nursing both my own illness and my husband gave me my first taste of medicine. During the next few years, I began studying nutrition and non-traditional medicine, as well, in the hope that I could find the answer to our medical problems.

I soon learned that the maintenance of health depends as much upon the promotion of wellness as it does upon the combating of disease. My parents had never taught us to eat a healthy and balanced diet, and this contributed much to my health problems. Eventually, through a combination of nutritional & herbal supplements and dietary and lifestyle changes, I was able to wean myself from a diet of prescriptions and gradually find balance in my health. Unfortunately, these supplements and dietary changes did nothing to lessen the ravages of Andrew’s schizophrenia. Conventional medicine, with the invention of new psychotropic medications, finally started stabilizing his illness, giving me the freedom to work outside the home.

Eventually, in 1995, I opened a health food store, Nature’s Nook, in Wautoma, Wisconsin. As a business owner, I entered a new world of innovative ideas and responsibility. Running the store taught me valuable lessons in “people-pleasing,” and I gained the confidence to excel as a businesswoman. I also devoted much time and effort to educating my customers about nutrition. My life was finally beginning to stabilize, and I decided that the time had come to think about the dream of formal education that had arisen during my illness. I began taking a course in clinical nutrition from the American Health Science University.

In 1999, the highway road construction in Wautoma destroyed my business. After over a year of losing ninety percent of my sales, I feared that I could not rebuild the business. I had hoped to move my store to Wausau, the only well-populated area without a health food store, but two other stores moved into that area at the same time. With great sadness, I closed the doors and began working at the Wautoma Care Center as Director of Patient Accounts. Just two years later, the Care Center closed its doors, and a week later my husband, Andrew, was killed in a car accident.

Before working at Wautoma Care Center, I had briefly worked as a nurse’s aide, and I received my certification. While working at the Care Center, there were plenty of opportunities to use this training and I worked as a nurse’s aide on the weekends and fulfilled my duties as Director of Patient Accounts during the week. Working with the elderly is an amazing experience. It has taught me the depth and strength of the human spirit and compassion. Whenever I care for an elderly person, I pour all of my compassion into my work and do my best to insure that they receive the care that every human deserves. After the Care Center closed, I obtained employment as a nurse’s aide with a couple of agencies, and I decided that I wanted to study psychology and nursing and obtain a bachelor’s degree.

In the spring semester of 2002 I enrolled in the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh as a full-time student. Attending college at this point in my life has not been easy. I live thirty-five miles away from campus and commute every day. The distance always seems so tiny when I think of the wealth of information I am gaining in my classes and the many noble goals that are now within my grasp. College is certainly not the only aspect of my life right now. I spend much time raising my two daughters who are both in high school, and I believe that a parent must be attuned to all of the needs of their children, be they physical, emotional or spiritual. One important need, education, is one in which I am proud to say that I have set a fine example. Both of my children have told me that they are proud of my endeavors and that they plan to follow in my footsteps.

I have always striven towards making meaningful contributions to my community, and as a psychiatric nurse I will have an even greater opportunity to do so. I have served for several years on the Waushara County Mental Health Service Committee Board in order to implement needed programs for the mentally ill in our community. I have also served on the CAP Services Board and have been the president of the Head Start Parent group. While working at the Wautoma Care Center, I often volunteered my time and services to make gift baskets and crafts with the elderly in the nursing home and in the community.

More than any other milestone I have reached, I am most proud of my success as a business owner. I made the decision to pursue this venture and I in no way think of it as a failure. The challenges I faced and overcame and the wealth of knowledge I learned has made me mentally prepared and persistent enough to excel at any endeavor. I have developed the compassion and commitment that will drive me for years to come.

Now is the season for me to pursue my true goal of education – psychology and nursing. I believe that all of my life experiences have been necessary to bring me to this point. I look forward to my future with great anticipation, knowing that the time has finally come for me to realize my dreams.

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