By Celeste Edenloff
“You can have different lives within your same life,” according to Nancy Kiger of Alexandria. “And, they can be quite different.”
She believes that no matter what age you are, you should pursue your dreams.
“If you want to do something different or if you think you were meant to do something different, you should really look at all the possibilities,” said the mother of three. “If you are unhappy doing something, try something else. It’s never too late.”
Kiger graduated in 1970 from Northfield High School. In her family, it was a given that you would go on to college. She spent two years at the University of Minnesota-Morris and two years at Concordia College in Moorhead.
“At that time, I really only thought about a nurse or a teacher,” said Kiger, adding, “It was still pretty stereotyped in those days.”
She graduated from college – for the first time – in 1974 with a degree in elementary education. She taught a year in Dunseith, North Dakota. The next year, in 1975, she got married and she moved to Prior Lake, where she was a long-term substitute teacher.
She ended up teaching in Prior Lake for about five years. Then, her life changed.
In 1980, her son, Jack, was born. “I took a year off and then I didn’t really see myself going back,” she said. Three years went by and in 1983, her son, Tom, was born. Shortly before that, the family moved to Alexandria.
“There were quite a few women who stayed home at that time, which is very different from today,” Kiger said. “By that time, though, I thought about becoming a teacher again or a para.”
That didn’t happen. In 1985, her daughter, Katie, was born and she decided she really didn’t want to go back into teaching. She thought that with her years of experience, it may be difficult to get a job.
“I would have had a difficult time getting in at that point because people were not wanting to pay for years of experience,” she said. “I had this fear that I would never go back to work, which I didn’t think was a real good plan.”
Kiger explained that she made a plan that when her daughter was in kindergarten, which was also about the same time she turned 40 years old, she would then try and find a job.
“My husband and I talked about it and he agreed, but then he said, ‘You could go back to school.’”
Kiger then knew what she was going to do.
“I thought, whoa! Go back to school or get a job? No problem. I’ll go back to school,” she exclaimed.
At about the age of 40, Kiger then signed up for correspondence classes through the University of Minnesota Extension Office. At that time, she did all the coursework at home and then she would go to the public library to take her tests. She took the basics, along with some psychology courses. She had decided she wanted to become a psychologist.
Her family and friends didn’t really notice that anything was different –meaning that she was back in school – because she did everything from home and it didn’t “interfere” with the rest of her life at that point. Her kids were a little older at that point, which she said helped. It took her about two and a half years to finish her coursework. After she took and passed her exams, she applied to several graduate programs. She got accepted into one, but it wasn’t the right fit. The following year, she was accepted into Indiana State University.
Her husband, who was a rural mail carrier, ended up asking his boss if there was a way he could keep his job but take a leave of absence. An agreement was reached and her husband commuted from Indiana to Alexandria a few days per month and also worked during Christmas and the summer months. Most often, he would drive back and forth, although there were a few times he would fly.
When asked the question, So you just picked up and moved your family to Indiana?, Kiger replied, “Yes. And that is when people thought I was crazy.They told me I was nuts and that I was too old to do this. People didn’t understand.”
The Kiger family even sold their house because they didn’t know if they would be moving back.
Kiger said people thought she wasn’t being fair to her family. She said they would question her with disgust in their voices. They questioned why she was making the move at “her age.”
“It was a different time then,” she said. “People asked me what good it would do because I would be old when I got it (my degree). I’m still going to be old if I don’t get it, was my thinking.”
Kiger noted that she had a very good scholarship that covered almost all of her costs, including some living expenses.
After three years, Kiger graduated from Indiana State University and then the family ended up moving back to Alexandria, where she completed her internships.
In about 1998, Kiger said she was hired on at the Douglas County Hospital as a full-time psychologist. At the age of 46 – nearly 30 years after graduating high school – Kiger started her career as a licensed psychologist. She worked at the hospital for 13 years and then worked in the Alexandria school district for another five or so years, as a school psychologist.
She “retired” in January of 2015. However, that didn’t last long. She is now working part-time at Lutheran Social Services.
Looking back at her career and her life, Kiger said, “I wish I would have known then that you need to enjoy each phase of your life. Soon it will pass and you’ll do something different. You never know what life will bring you.”
She concluded with two pieces of advice: “Pick something that translates into something you can do as you get older,” she said of choosing a career path, and, “No matter what age you are, always try to be self-sufficient.”