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By Vicki Gerdes, Published February 10 2009

Lake Park, Minn., nurse named state's caregiver of the year for 2008

LAKE PARK, Minn. — Though Joanne Sherbrooke says it’s “a big honor” to be chosen as Minnesota Caregiver of the Year, the Sunnyside Care Center nurse also admits she’s a little embarrassed by all the attention.

“It’s very nice, but I’m still quite overwhelmed by it,” Sherbrooke says.

When she learned that she would be the 2008 award recipient at a staff meeting back in December, she became “very emotional.”

“I did not have a clue,” Sherbrooke says. She still had no idea what was going on when she was presented with a plaque from the staff.

“I was asked to read this plaque aloud,” Sherbrooke says. “I had a hard time…it took me a long time to read that one sentence.”

But despite the fact that her family is pleased as can be — “my husband (Ron) is so proud he could just bust his buttons… he’s telling everybody we know” — Sherbrooke would just as soon go back to quietly performing her daily duties at the nursing home.

“I just don’t know about all this attention,” she says. “I’m not somebody to toot my own horn. ... I just do my job, and everybody else does theirs.”

Nevertheless, Joanne’s work has not gone unnoticed by her colleagues and supervisors.

“As I began my career at Sunnyside, I learned immediately from observing and working with Joanne that being a nurse was so much more than passing out medications,” says fellow nurse Derek Martin. “It’s a profession of genuine and tireless compassion and kindness. It was because of Joanne that I made the decision to attend nursing school. To this day my goal is ‘to be a nurse like Joanne.’”

“There are so many people in our community who can share stories of Joanne’s compassion, selflessness, and incredible talent,” says Sunnyside administrator Katie Lundmark. “She is one of those wonderful people who make Sunnyside the special place it is ... all of us at Sunnyside and across Ecumen are so very proud of Joanne.

“When a person answers his or her calling in life and lives that calling to its fullest, as Joanne does every day, so many others benefit,” Lundmark added.

Though Joanne admits that working at a nursing home, as she has done for more than three decades — not all of those years consecutively — is “a hard job, physically and mentally, with a lot of challenges to it,” being a nurse can also be “very rewarding.”

“I like my residents… they’re very important to me,” she says. “If I could change anything (about the job), I’d like to have more time with them one on one. I really would like to slow down and give them all the care and attention they need.”

Though she doesn’t have as much time to spend with them as she’d like, Sherbrooke does become quite attached to her charges.

“It’s very hard to lose a patient,” she says. “It affects me almost as much as their family sometimes. More often than not I need a shoulder to cry on (afterwards).”

But she has no regrets about her chosen profession.

“I really enjoy taking care of the residents here,” she says. “They need someone to care for them, and their families need to know they have someone taking care of them. ... I just hope someday if I need a (nursing) home, that there’s someone to take care of me.”

That’s not necessarily a guaranteed thing, Sherbrooke says; there is a shortage of nurses who are willing to take on the physical, mental and emotional challenges of working in a nursing home like Sunnyside.

But for those who are willing to take it on, Sherbrooke has one piece of advice: Start writing down all the stories that the residents tell. If she had done that when she first started working at Sunnyside 33 years ago, before the birth of her first son, she would have quite a book in the making.

“I wish I had started a book on the residents here ... it would have been quite a story,” she says. “You just couldn’t name any names.”

Members of the community who would like an opportunity to congratulate Sherbrooke on her award and thank her for her service to the residents at Sunnyside are welcome to attend an open house reception at Sunnyside from 2 to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 17.

But before then, most of the Sherbrooke family will be making the trip down to Minneapolis this week for the award presentation. Besides her husband, Ron, that family includes son Brent, daughter Gina and son Adam, as well as their spouses and children. (Joanne had a fourth child, daughter Rhonda, whom she lost three years ago.)

A native of Pelican Rapids, Joanne and her husband Ron have made their home in Lake Park for about 40 years now. Though she has spent most of her health care career at Sunnyside, Sherbrooke also worked at Viking Manor in Ulen for three years, and took a year off from work to get her nursing degree in 1984 (before that, she was a nurse’s assistant).

The Detroit Lakes (Minn.) Tribune and The Forum are both owned by Forum Communications Co.