Carla Norelius, a North Branch native, is retiring after a 44-year career with Fairview Lakes Regional Health Care and its predecessor organizations—
For many people who live and work in the area, Carla Norelius is the face of Fairview.
Whether it’s through mentoring in local schools, planning numerous community health care events or establishing relationships with patients and colleagues, she strives to make a difference inside and out of a health system that appreciates her fun spirit and strong work ethic.
Patients and co-workers are now saying goodbye to Norelius, who is retiring after a 44-year career with Fairview Lakes. She was the guest of honor at a special tea event Tuesday at the Wyoming medical center. Her last day as Community Health Outreach manager is Friday.
“Carla has had such a tangible impact on Fairview’s mission to improve the health of the community,” said Steve Housh, president of Fairview Lakes Medical Center. “Her list of accomplishments is long, such as creating a program to help youth in our region learn about health careers, matching mentors with middle school students in schools throughout the region, providing bike helmets and promoting bike safety across the region and working with community partners to help prevent suicide.”
Housh added, “Carla has partnered with community volunteers from our region to make the Fairview Lakes Auxiliary one of the strongest hospital auxiliary groups in the state with more than 350 members. Fairview Lakes and the region we serve have been blessed to have Carla playing a leadership role in advancing these community health initiatives and partnerships for so many years. We wish Carla all the best in her retirement.”
Growing up in North Branch, where she once trimmed trees for Boyd Forrest’s tree farm, Norelius graduated from North Branch High in 1970. A year earlier, she was one of 10 women who graduated from a nurses assistant class from the Chisago Lakes Hospital.
The purpose of the class was to open a door to education in a health career, and she gladly stepped in by ultimately working at that hospital, Chisago Health Services and what eventually became Fairview Lakes Regional Health Care.
Norelius started out as a candystriper at Chisago Lakes Hospital. “I made $1.33 per hour wearing candystriper uniforms,” she said. “I worked as a nurses assistant during my senior year at North Branch High School.”
She moved onto the hospital nursing staff and worked as a medical assistant in the clinic.
Her first check totaled $62 for 59.45 hours of work. And she still has the paystub, which is encased in glass as a memento.
In light of her work on the Fairview Lakes Auxiliary Board, Pat Rogowski worked with her in that capacity for almost 10 years.
“She has always been a great leader and mentor on the board for everyone,” Rogowski said. “I have attended many events and meetings with her, and she brings a lot of fun to those occasions. I have so enjoyed working with her on many projects through the auxiliary and have appreciated her guidance and help along the way. We have so much fun planning our events, but at the same time, we get a lot of work done. I truly hope she stays involved with our events.
“She has one of the most creative tables at our Festival of Tables, and the fun we had planning our new wine tasting event, Savor the Flavor, and we have to hope the Salad Lunch can still flourish without her. Fairview is losing a mighty fine employee,” Rogowski added.
In 1989, Norelius served as the clinic manager in Chisago and at North Branch Clinic and headed customer relations at Fairview Lakes Medical Center when it opened in 1998. Yet it was her work in Community Health Outreach that she became widely known throughout the community.
Dr. R. Paul Post is a family physician and has worked at the Chisago Lakes clinic since 1981.
“I do not even remember what Carla’s title was when I started in the early ‘80s, but I know she was the manager of the medical assistants in the clinical care aspects at our clinic,” Post said. “What I remember about Carla’s function in patient care was that she set the tone for those of us working in the clinic with the patients, and she always kept things positive and oriented toward giving the patients the best care possible. She helped to make the workplace fun, so that everyone looked forward to coming to work every day. I think a large part of the long-term success of our clinic can be attributed to those early days when Carla helped set the tone.”
Norelius also sets the tone with building relationships, and she feels fortunate that her career path went in different directions under one company.
“I’ve been very lucky to have so many different jobs (at Fairview),” Norelius said. “I’ve never been bored a day in my life, and I won’t let that happen. In the old days working in a hospital setting, you could build trust and educate patients the night before their surgery, and they remember. You had a relationship with people.”
Regardless of the time, the relationships and bond between professional and patient continued for Norelius, who often is greeted by patients at places from weddings to the grocery store.
“Parents remember me because I was there for their child’s birth,” she said. “It’s very fulfilling. People support the value of relationships. It makes you feel good.”
Through her community outreach work, Norelius also watched Fairview’s mentoring program grow to reach more than 1,000 local students. For 15 years, the program has been pairing local students with adult mentors.
The program is led by Kathy Bystrom, assistant manager for Fairview Lakes Community Health Outreach, who will be taking over the lead spot when Norelius retires.
“When the medical center opened…, our staff wanted a way to connect with the community; conveniently, Wyoming Elementary School was right next door,” Bystrom said last fall.
As the staff began to see how their relationships with the students helped improve the kids’ attendance, self-esteem, behavior and academic performance, the program was named “Friends Make A Difference,” and the scope expanded to provide personalized guidance for each student and to include adult volunteers from the community as mentors.
Today, Friends Make A Difference operates in 15 schools in the Forest Lake, Chisago Lakes and North Branch school districts, with the help of about 200 mentors comprised of Fairview staff, community members and volunteers from several local businesses and organizations.
Last spring, 10 students graduated from Forest Lake and Chisago Lakes high schools who had been with their mentors since elementary school or junior high, and many of those mentors attended the graduation ceremonies or open houses.
“It’s thrilling to go to high school graduations, and we’re always looking for mentors, especially men,” said Norelius, noting there are more boys than girls on the waiting list.
Back in 1989, Norelius was one of the first people to welcome public relations and marketing specialist Lani Freeman to Chisago Health Services. Norelius was overseeing staff at the clinics in North Branch, Chisago City and Wyoming at the time.
“I remember we ‘toured’ the clinics in the midst of an early March blizzard, wading through snowdrifts and subsequently closing each clinic we visited due to the bad weather,” Freeman recalled. “That year, she and I also worked together on the Lindstrom Loppet 5K, which, at Carla’s urging, Chisago Health Services had just assumed responsibility for from the Chisago Lakes Education Foundation. Carla has been a key player in the Loppet every year since, most recently co-chairing it in conjunction with (RN) Leanne Roggemann.
“Carla is the ‘go to’ person with many ties both within Fairview and in the community,” Freeman added. “She is a people person through and through and always brings a zest for life to all she does. I have no doubt she will bring that same energy to new pursuits in her retirement.”
Retirement life will start with a trip to Mexico, for Norelius. Otherwise, she’s looking forward to “not having a schedule or a list three pages long.”
So what kept her coming back to work over the years?
“Working with people in your own community,” she replied. “My school teachers became patients I cared for; your neighbors walk in the emergency room door and trust you’ll take care of them. I have bonds with people forever; community is family.
“It’s a good place to work, and I felt valued,” Norelius added.