During the most recent graduation season, there are those whose educational journey has been a linear one, one where each school year followed in succession with the only interruption being summer vacation. Then there are those older graduates that have followed a more circuitous route to achieve their degrees, one often interrupted by detours.
For 1995 Elida graduate Kelly Friesner-Gephart, she knew the general career direction early.
“I realized even in high school that I wanted something in the medical field. I started in nursing following high school before going to work full time for a pharmaceutical company,” she said. “Leaving my schooling was a decision prompted by financial circumstances and the responsibilities as a single parent raising my son, Ian, who’s now 21.”
That nursing degree never completed turned out to be a dream merely deferred. Two years after a blind date in 2000, she married her husband, Brian Gephart. However, it wouldn’t be until 2008, four years after the birth of her second son, Connor, now 15, that Friesner-Gephart would eventually complete her associate’s degree in nursing at Rhodes State following that 12-year detour.
Staying on the path and raising a family at the same time, Friesner-Gephart completed her bachelor’s in nursing in 2011 at Wright State, while daughter Ava was morphing from adorable newborn through her terrible twos and improving threes as Friesner-Gephart juggled running a household and raising three kids, bringing home a paycheck and, somehow, finding a way to study.
Her nursing specialty, pediatrics, took her over time to St. Rita’s and Memorial in Lima, as well as Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus. However, there was yet another educational goal she wanted, completing a master’s degree, which meant revisiting the challenges of juggling her responsibilities while trying not to drop any of the balls.
Laughs Friesner-Gephart, “I can’t tell you how many times I sat in bleachers beside baseball fields with an open laptop and a book, trying to get something done between at-bats!”
Those adults who pursue their degrees amidst the chaotic backdrop of family life and work never do it alone, and that certainly holds true for Friesner-Gephart as she reflects back after receiving that master’s degree in nursing from Ohio University in late May.
“My sister, Nikki, was on the receiving end of a lot of late-night calls to ease my panic over things like the logistics of programming,” she said. “And, my parents and in-laws, my, the number of times they babysat and got the kids to all the places they needed to go. And, then there was the professional support from Drs. Bryant and Bruno, who gave so selflessly in answering every one of my questions.”
However, that newly minted educational accomplishment still isn’t the finish line. Friesner-Gephart, currently working as an adjunct clinical instructor at Apollo Career Center’s licensed practical nursing program, will pursue her advanced degree, possibly with Nationwide Children’s or with an organization that serves the less fortunate in family practice or endocrinology. She also aspires one day to earn her doctorate in nursing.
For all of what she’s accomplished and those she’s helped in her home state, Friesner-Gephart had a larger humanitarian yearning, one which led her to join the efforts of the international nonprofit Humanity and Hope United, co-founded in 2010 by Riley Fuller. Fuller and his wife, Naz, help provide the people of Honduras a better life through establishing programs to improve agriculture, clean water, education and better medical treatment.
Says Friesner-Gephart, “I first got involved with Humanity and Hope two summers ago, when I learned of their organization on social media. To see the impact of the organization up close, I actually went to Honduras in May of 2018 and took my son, Connor, so he could see firsthand the problems facing many in the world.”
In the past year, Friesner-Gephart developed a relationship with Naz Fuller in the formulation of Humanity and Hope’s new program dubbed the Health Squad, intended to deliver self-sustaining health care to families in remote Honduran villages.
The Fullers’ humanitarian organization works in remote villages in Honduras, and, in her role as a pharmacist, Naz heads the Health Squad program, one divided into sub-teams such as clinical response and education. Friesner-Gephart was selected as team leader of the clinical response team. One week after her graduation, she left for Honduras to begin a week’s mission serving in the villages of Remolino, LaCoroza, La Cuchilla and El Progreso, all villages adopted by Humanity and Hope.
Days began at 6 a.m. with the clinic fully operational by 8, already under unrelenting temperatures that often reached 105 degrees by mid-day.
Says Friesner-Gephart, “One day I assisted in the transport of a patient with seizures from a remote area to the nearest hospital, an hour away in San Pedro Sula. Outside the hospital, there were large crowds of people lying or sitting on the sidewalk, waiting for their number to be called by a security guard just to get in the door. Conditions were so overcrowded that inside, there were multiple patients in the same exam room. The things we take for granted here when it comes to our health care just don’t exist in Honduras. These people would be beyond grateful to have anything close to what we have here.”
Friesner-Gephart has already decided she’ll remain tethered to Humanity and Hope United and will take part in future missions.
Yes, May was indeed quite a month for a lot of graduates, not the least of whom are those non-traditional students like Kelly Friesner-Gephart, who found a way to balance family and work responsibilities to put her hard-earned diploma to use both home and abroad.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.