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Posted:

October 4, 2017

Helen Moriarty dreamed of becoming a nurse. After graduating high school in 1945, she entered the cadet nursing program at Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a three-year program to become a Registered Nurse.

Helen completed two years and then set aside her studies to begin work as a nurse’s aide. Over the next four years, she cared for tuberculosis patients in a sanatorium, polio patients at a rehab facility, and railway workers at a hospital.  

Enjoying her independence, she moved to Minneapolis and found work at the Sheltering Arms in Minneapolis, where she met and married Don Kohler in 1950. When the polio epidemic ended, she went to work for the Northern Pacific Hospital.

Helen and Don started a family in White Bear Lake, eventually having 14 children, including three sets of twins. Don and two of his brothers owned and operated Kohler Mix Specialties, a business on Highway 61, which produced soft serve ice cream. In 1977, Don died of heart disease when he was just 49, and Helen raised her family as a single mother.

Establishing a scholarship fund was a way to honor their mother

The eldest son, Pat Kohler, remembers his mother as a hard worker who volunteered with many charities, including food shelves, the Spinal Cord Society, Hill Murray Mother’s Club, the Lion’s Club, and St. Jude’s Catholic Church.

With a busy life as a spouse, mother, and volunteer, she did not pursue further education.   She later told her children that one of the things she regretted was never finishing her nursing degree.

Helen passed on September 18, 2013.  Her children respected and loved her deeply, and were inspired by her strength. The family considered ways to honor her memory, and Pat and his brother Mark visited the Century College Foundation office to discuss possibilities.  

Gifts from the 13 siblings poured in within just two weeks

The Kohler siblings pooled their individual gifts to create a named, endowed nursing scholarship totaling $25,000. When asked to contribute, Pat said of his siblings, “There was an overwhelming ‘Yes!’  and, ‘That is so Mom.’” 

Janel Kohler Donegan, owner of the Coffee Cottage in Mahtomedi, said, “It’s a testament to our mother that we all gave and gave so quickly. That is the kind of person she was, and we want to further her values.”

Pat notes, “This scholarship is intended for nursing students with a B or C grade point average, students who need funding in the worst way. These are the students who often get forgotten.”

Thus began the Don and Helen Kohler Memorial Nursing Scholarship. Recipients of the Kohler scholarship receive $500 for each of their final three semesters in the nursing program. For more information, contact the Century College Foundation at 651-779-3338, or apply online.

View more from the 50 Years, 50 Stories series!

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