Meet … Gwen
It can be tough to get to know someone new, especially who might be behind the counter assisting you at the local drug store. As customers, we are often there to take care of very personal health care issues. We come and go quickly and don’t linger long as there is always someone else coming in the door.
But we recently had a few minutes to visit with Gwen Reker. The long-haired, soft-spoken middle-aged woman is somewhat new to the county yet and in her role at Lewis Drug in Flandreau. She and her husband, David, a career accountant and newly elected County Commissioner, moved just a few years ago to an acreage just outside of Trent.
We thought you might enjoy learning a bit more about her as we look to better connect people across the county as a few minutes on a bench in downtown Flandreau left us in awe.
MCE: Where did you grow up?
GR: I grew up in Pierre, SD. I had a very loving family and a great childhood in which I was the middle child!
MCE: How did you end up in Flandreau?
GR: David grew up on a farm and my extended family were farmers. We knew we wanted to live in the country where we could raise small animals, grow our own food, and watch the South Dakota sunsets without city lights.
MCE: Tell us about your professional background.
GR: I’m an SDSU graduate of the Nursing program. I had several amazing careers in Nursing while working for Sanford — 39 years. After getting my feet wet as a staff nurse, I worked in infection prevention and control for 20 years. Sanford was very generous and encouraged me to volunteer for my national association which allowed me to travel across the country and provide exciting services. I moved up the ladder and was the Director of Clinical Services. Here, I worked to improve clinical patient practices and safe care across the clinic system. Words can’t describe the variety of ways one can improve clinical care. When my grandchildren started to be born, I needed more free time so I moved on to Endocrinology and opened a new medical service line for Bone Health (i.e. osteoporosis). After opening this medical service line, I moved on to oncology. I ended my career in nursing as the Nurse Navigator for colorectal cancer. This was the most humbling of all my positions. It brought me full circle back to the patient. Each position I’ve held has been exciting and fulfilling; and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
MCE: What had you go into a career in nursing?
GR: My mom told me I should. And she was a very wise woman.
MCE: You mentioned infection prevention. What interested you in that particular area?
GR: My application into infection prevention was simply divine intervention. Once in this position I found that germs are fairly predictable. My first priority was to teach prevention. However, when diseases would spread, my role was to help stop, or at least control the disease. It’s truly quite challenging, but when one understands how a microbe behaves, and how people behave, next steps start to fall into place. I am a person who appreciates order, so this was a natural fit. I was able to help bring chaos into order.
MCE: Most important information you’d want shared about you, any hobbies, interests, your life and career now and why you retired from nursing/admin roles?
GR: I have lots of hobbies and interests. My favorites are sewing and gardening. The best story about my interest in sewing is that my mother started teaching me to sew around age 4. Mom was a teacher and she used those skills on me. I sat by her as she sewed constantly. I won $20 on a Barbie doll outfit at 5 years old. I sewed some of my clothes in grade school. Mom taught me to craft nearly anything with a needle or hook.
When I was a Nurse Navigator for colorectal cancer, I worked with patients who universally had a need that I could satisfy. Ostomy bags can be a bit unsightly. My patients would talk to me about this. I created a pattern and started sewing ostomy cozies (or covers) and started a volunteer group who sew these at Sanford. We continue to sew these. The volunteer office asked me to add infant blankets to my projects. These were for infants who did not survive their birth. I had to say “yes”. The perimeter of the blanket is embellished in hearts and this hopefully helps the grieving parent know that the infant is wrapped in love.
With these current projects, I’m always looking for proper fabric at reasonable prices. The cozies use cotton fabric --- like quilting fabric. The baby blankets use flannel. I pray over the products that I volunteer to make, but the blankets always bring tears. I feel like God has been preparing me for decades to use my sewing talent for persons in need.
MCE: Family you’d want mentioned!
GR: David is my amazing husband. He is so very flexible and helpful. We work as a team and life is remarkably satisfying with him by my side. To God be the Glory.
If you know of someone that would be a wonderful profile story for a future edition, please email Carleen at [email protected] or [email protected].