Retired nurse keeps on caring

Stanley volunteer recognized for contributions to rural health

Rural health volunteer Marilyn Evenson holds an embroidered dish towel from a cabinet of gift store items prepared by hospital auxiliary members at the medical center in Stanley.

STANLEY – Marilyn Evenson’s life as a registered nurse revolved around Mountrail County Medical Center and the Mountrail Bethel Home. Retirement has been no different for Evenson, who has been integral to many blood drives, fundraisers and volunteer activities that support the medical community in Stanley.

She was recognized in June with the Outstanding Rural Health Volunteer award at the 2018 Dakota Conference on Rural and Public Health’s annual conference in Grand Forks. The award acknowledges contributions made by a community volunteer toward the betterment of rural healthcare.

Evenson said she loves being around the nursing home residents and feels so welcomed by medical center staff that she considers the facility to be her second home.

“It’s a good feeling to feel you are a part of it,” she said.

Evenson, 80, graduated from Trinity Nursing School in September 1958. Several months later, she returned to the Stanley area, where she grew up, and for the next 53 years worked for the local hospital, clinic and nursing home. During that time, she served as director of nursing, a position she held at the time she retired in 2011.

She recalls working at the former hospital and the newer hospital built to replace it. She remembers when the hospital once delivered 200 babies in a year and surgeries were part of the hospital’s regular schedule. No longer are babies born at the Stanley hospital, nor are surgeries performed there, but the hospital continues to fill a critical function in the community and has been expanding its scope in other areas, including the current construction of an assisted living center.

Because of a nursing shortage, Evenson became used to working long hours.

“We were so short of nurses that many times I worked my own shift and would come and work another shift,” she said. If not working a shift on the floor, she would help transport ambulance patients to Minot.

Slowing down suddenly in retirement wasn’t in her nature. Instead, she found new ways to be involved.

“It was hard to stay away. It was really hard, because that was my life,” she said.

She began helping with bingo and fixing hair on Fridays for nursing home residents. She assisted with special events at the home.

She had taught certified nursing assistant courses for a time and years ago, while still working at the hospital, became a blood drive recruiter. As a nurse, she saw the need for an adequate blood bank. Knowing it wouldn’t happen without someone’s initiative, she made herself available.

“Whenever they couldn’t get anybody else, I would just do it. There had to be somebody that had their name as the coordinator on the list,” she said.

That wasn’t her only reason for stepping up, though.

“I have never been able to donate. That’s why I honestly feel I can do this. It’s the least I can do,” she said. “If I can’t donate, at least I can do something.”

United Blood Services holds community drives in Stanley about every three months. Evenson reaches out to past donors and seeks new donors to try to recruit 40 to 50 people for a drive. She also assists with the drive by registering the donors and seeing that they get refreshments.

Her veins might be too small to be a donor but her heart for the cause is plenty big as her efforts have led to an estimated 1,500 blood donations over the years.

“Marilyn is an exceptional volunteer,” said Teresa Johnson, donor recruiter in northwest North Dakota for United Blood Services. “She would do absolutely anything she could to help her community.”

As a blood drive volunteer, Evenson’s compassion comes through both in understanding the need and encouraging hesitant donors, Johnson said.

“Without great coordinators such as her, we wouldn’t be able to save as many lives as we have,” Johnson said. “She’s an amazing woman when you think about all the lives she has impacted, not only the blood drives she has worked with but her time working at the hospital in Stanley.”

Evenson has volunteered at health fairs and makes and sells handcrafted items for auxiliary fundraisers. She has been active with both the nursing home and hospital auxiliaries, currently serving as president for the hospital auxiliary.

An avid quilter in her spare time, Evenson also participates in her church and with the Golden Age Senior Citizens Club. Her husband died a year ago, but her two sons live at Stanley. She also has a daughter in Tennessee and six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Declining vision is starting to limit some of her activities, but she insists, “I am going to hang in there as long as I can.”

“I want to be doing something. I don’t want to get up in the morning and sit in a chair,” she said, noting her volunteer work gives her both a purpose and a joy. “I think a lot more people would be a lot happier if they would do something like that.”

(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Editor Mike Sasser at 857-1959 or Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to