Where are They Now: Nevada High 1985 graduate makes a difference in service men's and women's lives

Marlys Barker, Nevada Journal Editor
Andrea “Andi” (Madden) Wrenn is a 1985 Nevada High School graduate who now lives in Raleigh, N.C., where she works as a manager for a governmental program that provides financial education and counseling to service members and their families all over the world.

A 1985 Nevada High School graduate turned her life from one passion to another to find something she could be successful with in what she describes as a “highly transient lifestyle.”

Andrea (Madden) Wrenn, who goes by Andi, married a military man, and found that being the owner of a gymnastics business was difficult when you were uprooted every few years.

But she didn’t give up on finding something meaningful to do with her life. “Finding a new passion that could provide meaningful work and a decent income just happened for me when I saw the application for the fellowship (to become an Accredited Financial Counselor®).” She had been a volunteer financial helper to others already. “I took something I loved to do as a volunteer — helping people to learn to pay off debt and build wealth — and made it a career.”

She was awarded that fellowship in 2007, and in 2008 she began working on a government contract to manage financial professionals who were doing the work she had enjoyed previously as a volunteer. She manages a government program that provides financial education and counseling to service members and their families all over the world.

“The best part of my job is helping the financial professionals that work directly with service members to be armed with the best and most current information, so they can assist them in making wise financial decisions,” she said. “If service members are stressed about their financial situation, they may get distracted from the mission.

“Every day I answer questions to help others make better choices, or providing education to the professionals that go out in the field. I know the work our team does changes lives for the better every day,” she said.

As part of a military family, Wrenn said her family has lived in many places through the years. When her husband retired, they chose to settle in North Carolina, and that worked well with her financial counseling work. Where she lives, near Raleigh, is close enough that she can easily go into the office if she needs to, even though she classifies her job as “telework.”

Sadly, Wrenn is now a widow. Her husband passed away shortly after his retirement from the military. But she sees herself continuing in her present job for the long haul. “When I retire from my role in management for the program, I will become one of the financial professionals in the network I manage, so I can continue the work I love on an as-needed basis.” She said she will continue to be a volunteer when she can, both now and after retirement.

Looking back, Wrenn talks about how her first career passion for gymnastics started. She said she can’t thank Mrs. VanSickle, who taught in Nevada Schools, enough for all she is today. “She really had a huge impact on my life. I began coaching gymnastics with her for Parks and Recreation classes,” Wrenn recalls. VanSickle opened her up, she said, “to a world where math and athletics combine. She introduced me to positive coaching styles. She took me to my first gymnastics meet when she was judging, and encouraged me to become a judge as well,” which Wrenn did. “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her positive influence.” And she adds that it was VanSickle who also taught her how to drive a stick shift during a ride home from practice one day.

There were others in Nevada who come up on Wrenn’s list of positive influences. She remembers Father Supple, who made the church experience real. She also said Ms. Burnett gave her a love of math. “I had so many great teachers,” she said.

There were also valuable lessons to take from growing up mostly in Nevada. She moved to Nevada when she was 4. Her family left from her second through sixth grade years and then they returned for the rest of her school years.

Nevada left her with great memories. She recalls the wonderful atmosphere of the storefronts in the downtown; the Camelot movie theater; roller skating, biking and skateboarding all over town; swimming all summer at the pool; scooping the loop in high school and helping to paint a mural on a building across from the courthouse one summer.

She is now a 49-year-old mother of two grown children who have followed their passions. Her son, Austin, 25, is an artist. Her daughter, Arika Shelest, 24 and married, is a professional photographer.

When she’s not working, Wrenn likes to volunteer in her community and at church. She loves working on craft projects, especially quilting and paper crafts. She also loves to travel and meet people.

When she travels back to the Midwest for work, or if there’s a class reunion, she tries to come to Nevada. She said she likes staying connected with the people who became her friends here and often has been known to drop in on classmates wherever they live.

Nevada and Iowa are an important part of who she is today. “I learned to embrace all the people in a community. Each brings something to the table, something we can all learn from. I learned through being a peer counselor in high school how to help others and be a positive role model and influence to younger students,” she said. But most of all, she feels her time in the Midwest taught her kindness, and she said she takes that everywhere she goes, both for work and in her personal life. “People just know how to be nice to others in Iowa.”