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Milestones

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Today, I am mourning and in sorrow for the death of my mother, Catherine Patricia “Pat” Denk. She died at 5:47 a.m., April 7, with her husband of 68 years at her side holding her hand. She was 92. I was honored to be there, too, holding her other hand.

Born in Marshall, Texas, my mother became a Registered Nurse and joined the Navy as an Ensign at the end of WWII. My parents met while in the Navy and stationed near San Diego. Dad was a young pilot. It was there they began the journey of their lives together.

My mother earned an MS in Nursing from Kent State University. Her nursing career spanned more than 46 years professionally and, throughout her lifetime, as a nurse “in service” to every kid needing stitches removed or friend of family member, whether they were coming into this world or leaving it. Pat could always be counted on to be there with her astonishing capacity for compassion and strength. She was often heard to say, “I just loved being a nurse.”

The loss of my mother has caused me to reflect on other milestones of my life, and how her example has helped to shape the woman I am today. I began my career in construction in 1980, fresh out of college and living in my parents’ home in San Antonio, Texas. I needed a job, and I had worked one summer and Christmas break for one of the nation’s largest industrial builders, which was based in San Antonio. This company seemed like the quickest way to score a “real” job and to figure out how to get my 22-year-old life going.

For a bright young woman, this may not have been the most astute choice. There were nearly ZERO women in management in the construction industry in 1980, and yet, I just waded right in. I was tough, smart, and generally affable. I mention this because I not only survived in this very male-dominated company and industry, but I also thrived. I left that company after 23 years, during which I earned many promotions and accolades and made millions of dollars in profits for them. During that time, I earned an MBA from UT Austin which, by the way, I paid for with a “no-interest” loan from my mom. In 2002, after a move to the Twin Cities, a female business partner and I started White Crane.

As a mother of six children and supportive of her husband during the numerous moves of his career, Pat always kept the wheels on and the family rolling down the road. She enjoyed life as a wife, mother, nurse, and a devout member of every parish in which they lived. She was a wonderful role model not only for her children, but for everybody she encountered. She was most particularly a wonderful role model for me, and she will be sorely missed. I will carry her always, though, as she will live in my heart and, hopefully, on my shoulder, whispering in my ear: “Be fearless; stand up for what is right. Take the next step.”

The “Lightning Strikes” blog series will return next week.