The employees of Story County Medical Clinic in Zearing see themselves as a family, so it’s hard for them to know that they will soon say good-bye to El Jean Wildeboer.

Wildeboer, a registered nurse and a native of the area – growing up northeast of McCallsburg and living the past 44 years with her husband Steve on a farm east of Zearing – said May 16 will be her last day in the office, where she has worked for the past nine years.

She’ll miss it, she admits. "I’m a people person who talks a lot, so I’ll miss that day-to-day interaction with people I’ve come to know." Those people include her baby sister, Beth Frohwein, a CMA in the office and the one who is primarily responsible for bringing Wildeboer there to work.

As the office’s nurse practitioner, Mary O’Connor, explains, Frohwein wanted to go back to school in 2004 to attain her CMA degree. Wildeboer agreed to come in temporarily while her sister was out. With the addition of Dr. Reynolds on a part-time basis that year, "the practice went crazy," O’Connor said, "so we kept her!"

O’Connor, who was also very new to the office back then, said the hometown people in her little office, like Wildeboer, gave her their support and helped her establish herself as a practitioner in Zearing. "They’ve been a huge support to me all these years. Nobody knows you from Adam, and somebody like these guys give you a break. I have the best staff in the business, and that’s allowed me to succeed."

So it wouldn’t work work for O’Connor to let one of those valued staff members leave without a little fanfare. She, along with Frohwein; Penny Reed, their receptionist; and Tesla Rasmusson, a CMA who will fill the void being left by Wildeboer, are planning a suitable farewell for their co-worker.

On May 16, area residents are invited to stop by the Zearing Medical Clinic any time that day, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., to wish Wildeboer well. Refreshments will be served.

Wildeboer has been happy to work the past nine years in her hometown. She notes that this will be the third time she’s left the employ of Story County Medical Center, which has been a big part of her long nursing career.

After graduating high school in 1966, Wildeboer worked for Story Medical at the hospital in Nevada as a nurses’ aide at night. She attended nurses’ training in Des Moines at Iowa Methodist, and eventually got her first registered nursing job at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines. From there, she worked in pediatrics at the Marshalltown hospital. She left that job to stay home for 11 years with her children – a son, Brian, who lives in Ames, and a daughter, Kris, who lives in Altoona. In 1983, she went back to work for Story Medical Center for four years, and then took a job back in Marshalltown working for a surgeon.

She’s seen a lot of changes in nursing through the years, and said at times the new technologies have been overwhelming. Wildeboer’s been happy, she said, that the focus in recent years with Story Medical and the Zearing Clinic has been on patient-centered care, which she describes as "looking, listening and paying attention to the patient. You learn that when they come in for a cough, there may be something (else) underlying, and if you listen, you will learn (what that might be)."

Wildeboer said many patients today sometimes feel like they’re being shuffled out the door in medical environments. She likes to take a little more time with patients, and she has great admiration for the way in which O’Connor provides patient care. "I’ve never worked with a nurse practitioner before, but with the nursing background, she thinks like I do, because the nursing end of it is very patient-oriented."

O’Connor said she, in turn, has learned a great deal from Wildeboer and the others in her office. Not originally from here, the once health-care newcomer, says, "Zearing has raised me, and she (Wildeboer) was a huge part of that. As a provider, it’s easy to want to see more patients and keep things moving, but my staff and El Jean keep me focused on slowing down and taking my time."

Sadly, Wildeboer was not taking enough time back in January and slipped on ice, breaking all three bones of her ankle. The injury put the Zearing office staff into a "No El Jean" mode earlier than anticipated – kind of an early test run for what the future will be like, as Wildeboer was out for most of February and March.

Wildeboer has been happy to return to work a little while this spring before her official retirement date, and that retirement will be official, she said, because she has camping plans that weekend and for much of the summer. She’s looking forward to the great outdoors and to spending more time with her family, which also includes four grandchildren.

Looking back at Wildeboer’s stay at the Zearing Medical Clinic, O’Connor said it’s been a time of great change. Wildeboer started when the staff was still seeing patients in their very cramped original office space. They moved into their new, much roomier and bright office space in July of 2006. The Zearing Clinic also recently added an X-ray machine to their practice and they have added NuCara Pharmacy to their office, until NuCara is ready to move into a retail space next to the clinic in the near future.

"El Jean has been part of and has helped with much growth for our clinic during her time here," O’Connor said.

And Wildeboer has enjoyed most every moment of it. "I thought I was going to be temporary, but I’m very glad I got to stay."