He lived in Nevada from birth to exactly 19 years and seven days.
Summers in his hometown were spent working for local farmers and swimming at the pool with friends, while listening to the great music of the ’50s and ’60s. Bruce “Nick” Burnett, who is 68 years old and a graduate of the Nevada Class of 1967, says it was an ideal time to grow up, and Nevada was an ideal place to do it.
But growing up — that thing we do that leads us to adulthood — has several meanings. You age up year by year no matter what; you grow up when you mature. And Burnett said his actual growing up happened when he left Nevada to join the Navy.
“There is so much more to the world than what I learned in Nevada and Iowa, although that was a good foundation,” he said.
Burnett, who is now officially retired from a long career in health care, was actually drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War. “I chose the Navy instead,” he said.
Before leaving he talked to the butcher at Fareway, where he had taken a job right after his graduation and before being drafted. “The most important impact (on his life) may have come from an unlikely source,” he said. Harold Smith was the butcher. “When Harold heard I had been drafted, he took me aside and encouraged me to do my best during the testing phase at the physical exam and test. That score allowed me to do any enlisted job in the Navy and opened up an avenue of (being with) encouraging and smart colleagues.” Burnett said when he thinks back, “That is what kick-started my adult education and began my real program of learning.”
Burnett served a total of 25 years in the Navy, and during that time he managed to get a couple degrees in nursing. “I retired from the Navy while teaching Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes, Ill. After retiring, I returned to Texas, where I finished my master’s degree in nursing as a family nurse practitioner, and then returned with my family to Nevada,” he said.
His wife, Toni, who grew up in Grundy Center and graduated from University of Northern Iowa, worked as a microbiology supervisor at Burke Corporation in Nevada, and retired from there. “She has put up with me for 43 married years, and moved and changed jobs more times than I’d like to count,” Burnett said.
In Nevada, Burnett became an employee of Story County Hospital, and he opened clinics for the hospital in both Zearing and Maxwell (which are still in operation today). He had finished his doctorate of nursing practice degree online from a university in London.
“The people in both places (Zearing and Maxwell) were wonderful, and it was a fantastic job,” he said.
Later, he moved to State Center to run the clinic there and worked out of the Marshalltown hospital for the remainder of his active career. “I loved that job as well,” Burnett said. “I was fortunate enough to have several exciting opportunities because of each of these organizations (Marshalltown’s hospital and Nevada’s hospital).”
He’d like to mention another person who had a huge impact on his career — a wonderful and very encouraging night nurse at Story County Hospital, Ruth Stalzman, who pushed him to stay on the path of a career in nursing.
Burnett said he has loved working as a nurse and nurse practitioner because he likes science and he likes people, and the career allowed him to combine both of those things.
While he had some incredible teachers early on in Nevada, Burnett said he didn’t feel he was challenged enough to be a good student as he went through his middle and high school years. “It wasn’t until I was in the Navy that I found out I wasn’t stupid and that I could be educated and contribute to society,” he said.
In his career, he liked that he had the opportunity to challenge the stereotype (of that day) of being a man in a “women’s” profession. “Most of the women were fine with it, but many men were shocked and had trouble imagining the role. Now that has changed, and men find nursing a welcoming and proud profession,” he said.
Burnett has officially retired twice, but he still can’t give up the chance to help others. He still teaches and has been teaching Clinical Nursing for Family Nurse Practitioners for Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. for about five years. He teaches online and has students every semester from all across the nation. “Now I get to teach those who are going to teach. I really love seeing my students become better than me. It makes me feel like I have contributed,” he said.
He also, when available, still covers some shifts for The Iowa Clinic Urgent Care, usually in Ankeny and sometimes in West Des Moines.
Burnett and his wife share their time as residents of two states. Half the time they live in Flagler Beach, Fla., and half the time in State Center. “I’ll let you guess which half where,” he joked.
While in Florida, Burnett said he loves trail riding with his friends on horseback along the beaches, going to the beach to relax and eating wonderful seafood with family and friends.
The hardest part of living in Florida in the winter is missing his granddaughters back in Iowa. The good part, though, is spending time with his horse and new friends down south. He also enjoys old cars and tractors.
Back home in central Iowa, Burnett comes to Nevada often. “I still like to do business with my friends in Nevada and there are a couple places I love to eat,” he said, adding that Starbucks in one of those. Most of his family has moved out of Nevada now. “I only have one cousin whose family is still there,” he said.
When it comes to growing up in Nevada and the lessons he took from here — the most important, he said, is “that people (especially here in Iowa) are usually good and they are willing to help you if you know how to ask. They want the best for you.”
About Bruce “Nick” Burnett
Family members: Wife, Toni, of 43 years
Daughter, Dana Dennis, of State Center. Dana, a 1987 Nevada High School graduate, is married with two children. She works in Des Moines as a project manager for a large insurance company. She visited her parents this past winter in Florida and took part in the Disney Princess Run.
Son, Colin Burnett, a physician at the University of Iowa Hospitals and a 1999 graduate of Nevada High School. Colin is married; his wife also works at the University of Iowa Hospitals. They have a toddler.
Foreign Exchange Students — the family hosted seven total throughout their years. Six of them went to Nevada High School. The last one went to West Marshall High School. “We consider all seven to be our children,” Burnett said.
Some of Burnett’s Professional Accomplishments:
• Served on board of directors of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (the largest professional organization for nurse practitioners)
• Was selected in 2001 as a Fellow of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and later served as the chair of that organization
• Has served on the Iowa Board of Nursing as a consultant
• Was selected by Gov. Vilsack to sit on the Governor’s Council for Early Access for Children and Families; later was selected to serve the Iowa Foundation for Medical Care
• Currently is vice chair of the board of trustees for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions in Provo, Utah