Aven's Blue Ribbon

Aven Zimmerman is 12-and-a-half years old and never had the opportunity to meet her maternal grandmother, the late Norma White Abood. Norma graduated from the diploma program at Clarkson School of Nursing in 1964. Over the next several years, she worked, got married, had children and reached an age where she couldn’t wait to someday soon become a grandmother. Then, a diagnosis of liver cancer at age 52 cut Norma’s life short. She would not live to tell Aven or her other grandchildren about her life as a nurse and passion for raising people’s spirits. For them to ever know what she was really like, they would need to take a deep dive into her past themselves. With great faith, that’s precisely what Aven did.


Aven’s desire to learn about her late grandma—beyond the stories told by her mother, Kayleen—all started with her involvement in 4-H. This past year, Aven and her fellow 4-H clubmates were encouraged to complete a project to learn about a topic of their choice. The project Aven chose, “Family Heirlooms and Treasures,” was the perfect opportunity for her to research her Grandma Norma and discover what her life was like as a nursing student and health care provider.

One of the things Aven learned from her research was that her Grandma Norma wanted to be a nurse from the time she was a little girl. Her aunt, Mildred White McKibben, graduated from Clarkson School of Nursing in 1940, and Norma wanted to follow in her footsteps. When it was time for Norma to go to school and fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse, her parents already had three children attending college, so a sister helped pay her expenses.

While in nursing school, Norma spent most of her weekends in her dormitory. She worked at the front desk and took on sewing projects for different people to help pay her bills. Years later, Norma’s son, Dale, shared how his mom was quite a prankster with her dorm-mates. He believes her rowdiness was a way to relieve stress and break the ice with strangers.

An undated letter that Norma wrote home while she was in nursing school depicts a bit about some of her experiences. She wrote:

"Dear Peoples,
I am preparing a talk to be given tomorrow in one
of our O.B. classes on my project—Criminal Abortion.

Friday we sure were busy with delivering babies. It seemed as soon as we got one delivered another one was ready to deliver. You sure learn a lot while you are in O.B. I never knew so much went on when a baby was born. We are supposed to scrub our arms and hands for 10 minutes before going into the delivery room, but we are lucky if we get to scrub them for one or two minutes. We’ve had so many patients lately that two were out in the hall Friday.

This morning I took care of the First Presbyterian nursery and first thing off—didn’t this mother tell me to watch this little boy to see if he had a B.M.? Well, I checked him, and didn’t I stick my finger in a mess!"

The letter was unique in that Norma addressed each one of her “peoples” (Richard, Mom, Jerry, Bob and Pop) by name and had a bit to say to each one.

After graduation, Norma worked in the Gothenburg Memorial Hospital in Gothenburg, Neb. She met and married Amen Abood in 1966 and moved to Aurora, Neb. where she worked for a short time at the local hospital. Amen was hired by Chief Industries in Grand Island, Neb., and Norma soon transferred to work at the old St. Francis hospital.

Norma stopped working in 1969 when her daughter, Kayleen, was born. In 1971, Amen and Norma welcomed twins Dana and Dale into the family. At this time, Norma became involved with the Mother of Twins Club. Around 1975, Amen was laid off, and the family moved home to the rural Overton/Lexington area of Nebraska. Norma stayed home with the children and then began working part-time at the care home in Lexington when the twins began kindergarten. Though a dream of her own to someday return to school and earn a degree, Norma, instead, led classes for girls who wanted to become nurse’s aides and also taught classes at Central Community College in  Kearney, Neb. She later worked at a care home in Elwood, Neb. Throughout her nursing career, Norma took a special interest in Alzheimer’s patients and encouraged her employers to provide the best care for them.

Nursing was not Norma’s only commitment. She was also a devoted wife and mother and worked with a local doctor to start a hospice program in Lexington. She enjoyed planting flowers and gardening. Her sewing skills enabled her to make numerous outfits for her children and even the dress she wore on her own wedding day.

With fondness, Kayleen remembers her mother’s ornery side. “My newly married husband had a dislike for cottage cheese,” she says, leading in gaily to her next comment. “We were going through a salad bar with mom, and, when he wasn’t looking, she snuck a serving of cottage cheese on his plate. She loved doing things like that!”

Dropping to a more serious tone, Kayleen also shares how her mother always considered the feelings of others, especially the patients she cared for who suffered from terminal illness. “She believed strongly in the rights of people to live out the rest of their lives with dignity,” says Kayleen. When Norma was diagnosed with liver cancer, Kayleen struggled seeing her mother try to make peace with her own fate. “I wanted her to fight to be with us by doing whatever it took—experimental surgeries, treatments, tests, all of it,” she says. “But that wasn’t what she wanted.”

Instead, Norma used skin patches to manage her pain and received home visits from hospice nurses as needed. She died two years later at age 54.

“Her death left a huge hole in my heart and was incredibly painful,” says Kayleen, who had married two years earlier and just given birth to her first child when Norma passed. “I never wanted to feel that hurt again, so I didn’t talk about her for a very long time. Recently, I realized that my children are getting older and know very little about their grandmother.” When the concept for Aven’s 4-H history project arose, both Kayleen and Aven felt researching Norma could fill a void in both of their lives.

“I picked my grandma because I never had a chance to meet her and have always wondered what her life was like,” Aven says. In doing the research, Aven learned that her grandmother was a hard working woman and that being a good nurse takes a lot of effort and compassion. Her project also sparked a new-found interest in learning more about other family members. Someday, Aven would like to see her grandmother's dorm and the places she visited on a daily basis.

Aven’s diligent research and quest for information about her grandmother Norma earned her a Blue Ribbon for her 4-H project. She put together a shadow box with memorabilia and wrote about her grandmother. She now knows who her grandmother was and a lot more about her life. It was also healing for Kayleen to be able to share her mother with Aven.


About Aven

Aven started seventh grade this fall at Overton Public Schools. She lives in Lexington with her parents, Kayleen and Alvin, and two sisters, Peyton, 18, and Ivey, 16. During her summer vacation she helped her dad in the garden and sold kolaches made using her Grandma Norma’s recipe, along with other baked goods and vegetables at the local farmer’s market. She likes to read, especially books such as Percy Jackson and the Olympians/Heroes of Olympia.