Everyone has a story. In the simplest terms, we have a beginning, a middle and an end. Luckily, I had the greatest opportunities at the beginning of my life to get me to where I am today. If I could pinpoint the most important people that influenced me the most in my early years, there could be nobody else except my parents: Howard and Lee Ann Nicholson. I could write a whole book about these wonderful people, but I will try to hit on some highlights that have been important to me in my development both personally and professionally. As I reflect on some things they did, I think about what I could do to change the future of veterinary medicine. Hopefully, for the better.
I've included a couple of my favorite pictures in this article. The first one is my parents early on in their relationship. I looked at this many times and wondered what their aspirations and dreams were as young people.
Dad grew up on our Century farm in Southern Minnesota. He loved working with horses, dogs, and cows. You can see him with his German Shepherd named Lobo in the second picture as he heads to the barn to milk cows. Handsome. Strong. Hard working. Caring. He told me at one time that he thought about going to Iowa State to become a veterinarian, but he felt like his family needed him to stay home and help on the farm.
Mom grew up in a farming family as well. She was quite an accomplished singer in the local scene. Some of her friends told me she sounded like Lena Horne, but better. (Sorry for the old reference. Just Google it.) She never mentioned any thoughts following this career path, but I know she could have done great things. Of course, in the 1950's it was much more difficult for women to have a career.
I don't know how they met, but once they did, they never looked back. They never regretted living the farm life. They both held a deep devotion to their faith, their families, the land, and each other. They raised my sister Julie and me to hold these same core values. They also taught us self-reliance. If we believe in ourselves and do the best we can to our abilities, nothing is impossible. We can make our dreams come true. Fortunately, many of my dreams were realized - with a few obstacles.
They also showed us the importance of respecting people different from ourselves and that we should help other people when we can.
Somehow my dad got a reputation for helping young teens and adults who had gotten into trouble, and he tried to instill those same values in Julie and me. Growing up, I remember many different young men working for us and even living with us for significant periods of time. They represented various walks of life, ethnicities, and religious backgrounds. Their problems ranged from truancy, petty theft, drug abuse, and armed robbery, amongst others. My parents would often drive them to and from where they lived or occasionally, the county jail. Sometimes they would help facilitate meetings with the young men and their children who were taken away and held in foster care. Throughout all this experience, I don't ever remember feeling uncomfortable or afraid. These people respected my parents because they knew they were trying to help them.
I wish I could say more but I'm running out of space. The main point, I guess I'm trying to get across is that I believe it's important, even in our busy lives, to make time to help kids as early as we can to find their way. They may live, look, or act differently than we do. But they all have lives to live and talents to share. Maybe we can cultivate some new young veterinarians along the way. I would encourage anyone to reach out to me with any ideas or ways they have helped kids in their community, and any new ways we might help kids to be interested in our noble profession. In my next article, I will share some of these ideas along with others that I have found that we could use on a small or large scale.
Until next month,
Dr. Shawn Nicholson