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Oldest working nurse in N.D. keeps busy, makes wine for Communion

Marjorie Anderson of Devils Lake is the oldest working nurse in the state of North Dakota. JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD

This holiday season, the Herald is recognizing the community's most inspiring people. Between now and Dec. 31, we'll feature one person each day who helps make his or her family, community or place of work a better place and, in doing so, is an inspiration to us all.

DEVILS LAKE -- Marjorie Anderson routinely is a volunteer at her church in conventional ways such as quilting, serving at funerals and assisting during worship.

Anderson also contributes outside the usual chores, as she makes Trinity-Bergen Lutheran's communion wine from homegrown grapes.

"Aside from the financial aspect of not having to buy wine, it's also an act of love," the Rev. Robert Buechler said. "That's not lost on anybody around here who knows Marjorie. She's a very devout person who loves her Lord and loves her church."

And, at age 88, she also loves to stay busy and useful. "She's the oldest working nurse in the state," said Dr. Jackie Downs of the Altru Clinic in Devils Lake.

Anderson retired in 1989 as the director of nursing at Mercy Hospital in Devils Lake. Until a year ago, she worked part-time as an admission nurse for local nursing homes. And, she continues to work periodically as a substitute nurse at the North Dakota School for the Deaf.

"The staff and students love to see Nurse Marge," said Melissa Elsperger, director of health services at NDSD. "Whenever we need somebody, she is the first one I call.

"She's the ultimate nurse, so kind, so smart, so compassionate."

She's also the ultimate giver of time, talents, goodies and, yes, communion wine, all among the reasons she has been chosen as one of the Herald's most inspiring people.

Boundless energy

Awe at her boundless energy for someone at any age, much less 88, is a common theme voiced by the people who know her best.

"If I'm half as good as she is at age 88, I'll be in great shape," Elsperger said. "She walks faster than I do and I'm 37."

Anderson's pace once was slowed temporarily about 15 years ago, when she suffered a broken foot while chaperoning a youth church trip to the Twin Cities. However, she didn't tell anybody about her injury until the ride home.

"She didn't tell us because she didn't want to spoil the fun for the kids," Buechler said. "She's tough and has a big heart.

"For someone supposedly retired, she makes me tired just watching her. She just has to be on the go all the time."

Anderson said her activities and volunteerism are products of her desire to stay busy. "You have to be happy for every morning you wake up and are capable of being busy," she said. "You can gain satisfaction from everything that you do."

She and husband Dick say they miss their former rural homes in Webster and Churchs Ferry, having been displaced by the rising waters of Devils Lake. However, she's found a garden plot in Devils Lake where she can raise vegetables to donate.

"She's always running, always taking care of everyone else," Downs said.

Multiple role model

Elsperger and Downs say Anderson is a role model in medicine and as a friend, in addition to her other contributions.

"She is one of the kindest people I've ever met, as she's willing to listen to anybody and always has a smile on her face," Elsperger said. "You can always count on her.

"She should always wear the nursing uniform and the nurse's cap to show how much of an angel she is."

Dr. Downs said she has more of a personal relationship than a professional relationship with Anderson. "Still, she's an old-fashioned nurse who continues to call me 'Dr. Downs.' I'm not sure if she can call me 'Jackie' to my face."

Leaving a legacy

The process of making her communion wine takes three years. But wine won't be the only legacy that Anderson will leave behind.

"She's a pistol," Downs said.

Make that a humble pistol.

"Don't make me sound like too much," Anderson said. "Others work circles around me. I'm not that good."

Reach Bakken at (701) 780-1125; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1125; or send e-mail to