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For the past 35 years, Maria Stokka has been coming to work as the director of nursing at Ecumen-managed Pelican Valley Health Center, providing care to the families of Pelican Rapids. On February 28, 2014, she will retire from this job that has intricately connected her with the lives of the 2,500 people who make this northwestern Minnesota community home.
“When you have done a job like this for 35 years, you’ve taken care of more than one generation,” Maria says. “You get to know families and extended families at some of the most important times in their lives. They are your neighbors — and sometimes your relatives.”
In fact, Maria’s mother was in the care center here, and her husband’s mother and father both were here.
When Maria, originally from Fairmount, N.D., graduated from St. Luke’s School of Nursing in Fargo, she didn’t envision a career in long-term care nursing. She and her husband moved to Pelican Rapids and there was a job open at another care center, where she worked for five years until her first child was born. After that, she started working nights at Pelican Valley Health Center and was quickly promoted to director of nursing.
“Once I was in it, I had no desire to do any other type of nursing,” she says. “This is so much more personal. You know the residents. You know their families. And you’re there for them at some of the most important times in their lives.”
Barbara Garrity, the Executive Director at Pelican Valley Health Care, says working with Maria “has been an absolute honor.”
“She is so easy to work with and always does her job with the residents’ well-being in mind,” Barbara says. “She is also an exceptional, hands-on leader, and the staff has the utmost respect for her.”
The respect is mutual. Maria describes her management style as a team approach. “It takes the whole team to get the job done right,” she says. “No one job is more important than another, and everyone has something to offer. I respect and appreciate what others do. And I remind them that what they do is really important.”
And that outlook has led to some incredible employment histories for the nursing department. Several other nursing department staff members, including Maria’s sister, have more than 30 years of service at Pelican Valley. “The longevity of the staff here can be largely attributed to Maria’s leadership,” Barbara says.
Maria says she strives to always be open, honest and fair. “I don’t sugar coat. I don’t overreact. I talk things through and encourage others to do the same.”
So why retire now? “I want to leave while I’m on top of my game,” Maria says.
She plans to spend time traveling with her husband, Jerome, who is now retired. They have a son and a daughter in the area and four grandchildren, who she will now be spending more time with.
In her spare time, Maria does crafts like beadwork and embroidery and also likes crosswords and reading.
Will she miss the job she has been doing for the past 35 years? “Oh, I’m sure there will be a big void,” Maria says. “But I’m not leaving the community. I’ll still be seeing everybody.”