A nurse's cross-country journey to Guttenberg

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Dorothy Tangeman, retired nurse at the Guttenberg hospital, was honored as one of the hospital's first caregivers during Guttenberg's Stars & Stripes parade on July 3. (Press photo by Bruce Thein)

By Caroline Rosacker

In 1961, Guttenberg Municipal Hospital & Clinics (GMHC) opened its doors. This year marks the Critical Access Hospital's 60-year anniversary, offering dedicated healthcare services to area residents. 

Dorothy Tangeman of Guttenberg, former registered nurse and GMHC employee, was recently recognized and honored as one of the hospital's first caregivers during Guttenberg's Stars & Stripes Celebration parade on July 3.

Tangeman grew up on a farm in New Sweden County, near Gaylord, Minn. "My cousins used to call me 'Schimell' because of my white, blond hair," recalled the 86-year-old. "It means 'white horse' in German. I hated it!" 

The family eventually moved off the farm and purchased a new farmstead near Henderson, Minn. "We moved to Henderson and I attended school there, graduating in 1953," said Tangeman. "From there I went to nursing school at Faribault St. Lucas Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing. It was run by Protestant nuns – they never wore makeup or got married. Our home church in Henderson – United Church of Christ — was affiliated with the nursing school.

Family members inspired Tangeman to become a nurse. "I couldn't be a teacher, because I couldn't play the piano," she chuckled. "My mother's cousin was a nurse and graduated from Faribault. At first I only wanted to get my practical license, but my mother's cousin encouraged me to go for three years. Another girl from our high school had also graduated from there and church parishioners had also encouraged me."

In 1958 the nursing school was phased out and eventually closed. "I could have gone to Rochester at St. Mary Hospital, that offered a four-year degree, but Faribault was more inexpensive," she explained. "I graduated in 1956 and took my boards in St. Paul, Minn. Some of my classmates and I stayed with my Aunt. Most of us grew up on farms, so it was quite an experience to be in a big city."

Tangeman's first job was on a med-surgical floor, often referred to as catchall floors where individuals who do not meet criteria for admission to critical care or specialty units are admitted. "I worked in Mankato, Minn., on a med-surg floor," commented Tangeman. "My husband, Robyn, and I had been dating long distance for three years while he was in the service, and I was enrolled in nursing school. We got married in 1957."

The adventuresome couple hit the road. "We didn't know what to do, or where we wanted to live, so we bought a mobile home," she remembered with a laugh.  "Robyn never pulled a mobile home before so it was quite an experience. We got stuck in Raton Pass, Colo., in a snowstorm, and had to put the last pair of chains on our car, a 1956 Montclair Mercury. We kept on going south until we got to Arizona."

Their arrival in Arizona created employment opportunities. "We just flew by the seat of our pants," she smiled. "We pulled into a mobile home park and settled in. There were nice people that lived there – older snowbirds. It cost $25 a month to rent a space. I worked at a small Mesa hospital, and one day was called personally by Dr. Ernest Von Pohle, a Seventh Day Adventist, who built Tempe Hospital and Tempe Medical Clinic. He asked if I smoked. I said, 'No, and I never will.' I was hired over the phone to work at his Tempe Medical Clinic."

Robyn had a more difficult time securing a job. "I worked in the clinic for two-and-a-half years," she recalled. "Robyn worked construction, but it was hard to get into the contractor's labor union. He worked other odd jobs, but we eventually moved back to LeSueur, Minn. (home of the Jolly Green Giant), towing our mobile home behind us. I worked at a small LeSueur hospital for a short time before we moved to Guttenberg."

The couple was encouraged to move to Guttenberg by Robyn's mother, Agnes Tangeman, who thought he should work in the family's bank. "We moved to Guttenberg in 1961 – the year the municipal hospital opened its doors," said Tangeman. "I was hired as an R.N. on the night shift — a shift I vowed I would never work! Robyn was not interested in banking so his father, Herb Tangeman, helped him get a job. Herb was a good friend with Eldon Sauegling, who worked at the Fish Hatchery and Eldon hired Robyn. Eventually Robyn would secure employment at the Lock and Dam. That worked out well." 

Tangeman was a GMHC employee from 1961-1993. "I was 58 years old when I retired," she shared. "Switching to 12-hour shifts cinched it for me. I didn't want to work them."

She looked back at her years of dedicated service. "I worked with Editha Hartman, Rose Wernke, Dorothy Walters, Mary Ford, Betty Overbeck,  Lucille Fisher and Arlene Kruse-Harbaugh, who was the first Director of Nursing," she fondly remembered. "I also worked with Dr. Zehr and Dr. Downey, who delivered both of my children – Kari in 1962 and Brian in 1966."

The couple settled in the mobile home park located on the south end of Guttenberg. "We lived across the highway from Winifred Moser," she said with a smile. "Winifred was an artist and encouraged a group of us to take painting classes out on the island with Guy Briggs, our instructor. It was fun." The Tangemans eventually built a home at a permanent location on Acre Street in 1971.

Tangeman's steady employment was interrupted twice during her 32-year career. "I took six month off after each child, because I was nursing," she commented. "I remember I had to walk down the railroad tracks to get to work during the flood of 1965.”

World travelers

The travel-fluent couple never lost their desire for adventure. “We traveled with a Lutheran church group on our first trip to Europe,” said Tangeman. “We attended The Oberammergau Passion Play in 1990. We saw many European countries during that trip. We toured Holland, Italy and Ireland on an international bike tour. We rode 25-miles a day.”

The athletic couple traveled to, and hiked and biked in many parks and natural areas across the United States. “We visited the Galapagos Islands,” Tangeman shared. “We had to change planes nine times! We went to Machu Picchu first and then on to the Islands. I am glad we traveled when we were young and in good shape to bike and hike around.” 

In 1994 the couple purchased a second home in a retirement community in Arizona. “We live in Guttenberg in the summer and Arizona in the winter. We have more relatives down there than we have up here. Most are working in healthcare.” 

  The energetic couple enjoys keeping the Buechel Hill Trail in good condition for others to enjoy by pulling weeds and trimming branches. Dorothy is also a member of Guttenberg’s Ingleside Club. “My community plantings and beautification efforts are through my membership in the Ingleside Club,” she shared. 

“I enjoyed my work as a nurse. I felt like I was helping people and I was appreciated,” she concluded with gratitude. 

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