The Bismarck Tribune of Bismarck, North Dakota distributed an insert in one of its Sunday flyers in May 2015 titled Celebrating 100 Years of Nursing Excellence: Past, Present and Future. In that circular was an article featuring the life and 70-year nursing career of Estelle Tachenko, a long-time member of the Grassy Butte Church.
Estelle Frances Lang Tachenko, 92 years young and married to Lonny for 68 years, “shares her dedication, love and respect through nursing,” read the introduction. Following are excerpts from the story, written by her daughter Lonna.
A first generation child of Germans-from-Russia immigrants on her father’s side, Estelle was the second of three children. Life in the 1920s and 30s had one focus—survival through hard work. And work she did, mostly outdoors as she would much rather be feeding her horse, or riding on a hayrack, than cleaning and cooking indoors like her older sister, Lorraine.
Entrepreneurship in the 1930s was trapping gophers. So Estelle trapped gophers, selling the tails for one cent each every Saturday evening when the family went to Gackle. They bought groceries at one of the town’s two grocery stores and bought ice cream for five cents a cone at the drug store. It was a huge highlight of the week, as many of the neighbors were also there.
When it came time to attend school, one of the older students graciously took pity on Estelle and Lorraine, teaching them English upon their enrollment in the first grade. It was then Estelle realized her love for learning. She wanted to explore, to travel, and to experience life in unusual dimensions.
By the sixth grade, she realized her life’s journey had two potential pathways: attend high school in Gackle and probably marry a Gackle boy, or attend Sheyenne River Academy, an Adventist boarding school in Harvey, North Dakota (a distance of 110 miles from home), work hard to pay the tuition, but be with other kids of like energy, like faith, and like goals of service.
Her father thought the girls should attend high school in Gackle and live with their grandparents. So, Estelle decided to pray. Every day she went into the barn and up to the hayloft where she knelt in prayer asking the Lord to make a way for her and Lorraine to attend academy.
All signs pointed to that not happening, as the family was poor. Furthermore, they depended on the girls for help with the chores—farming, milking, gardening and all parts of work necessary to survive.
Just one month before high school started Estelle queried her father one more time about the possibility of attending the academy. When her father, without hesitation, said yes, Estelle knew a miracle had just happened.
Establishing a foundation
At Sheyenne River Academy Estelle worked in the kitchen and the laundry. They were not exactly fun jobs, but staying in the academy demanded approximately three hours of work every day except Sabbath. On Sunday they were working while the other students were out skating.
After graduating from SRA, Estelle decided to attend classes at Union College and work at the bookbindery. There she met a girl who was preparing to be a nurse. Estelle was intrigued with what she heard. Nursing resonated with her. After one year of generals, Estelle was on the bus heading to Hinsdale Sanitarium near Chicago. A new friend also from North Dakota was on the bus, Ann Tachenko, who five years later would become Estelle’s sister-in-law.
The two girls stuck together for their tenure at Hinsdale, including clinical rotations in Hines, Peoria and Toronto. Upon graduation the girls stayed at Hinsdale for several months before returning to North Dakota.
Beach, located near the Montana border, boasted what was considered a state-of-the-art facility, having a hospital, clinic and nursing home all in the same complex.
The owner of the facility was Dr. Bush, a famous doctor in his own right. After six months he had a frank and gracious discussion with the girls, counseling them to leave Beach and pursue nursing careers at hospitals in California where there would be more young professionals. It was during this move that Estelle met, and a year later married, Lonny Tachenko.
Building career and family
Lonny and Estelle moved to Ohio where Lonny was enrolled in a one-year mortuary science course at Cincinnati College of Embalming. Estelle had one of the most unique nursing experiences of her career at this time. Working as a private duty nurse, her patients included individuals whose names today are associated with major U. S. manufacturing and production companies.
After Lonny completed the mortuary science degree they moved to Colorado, living in the mortuary complex where Lonny worked 24/7. Estelle worked in a doctor’s office.
In 1949, they decided to move back to North Dakota and bought the Lazy X Bar Ranch for $19 per acre. With the need for money critical, Estelle moved to Mandan and worked as a nurse at the Mandan Hospital. She lived in a dormitory attached to the hospital and rode the bus to Belfield once a month where Lonny would pick her up and take her the 30 miles to the ranch. She worked there until their first child, Lonna, was born in 1951. Another daughter, Brenda, was born in 1955.
The family did not have running water until 1960 when they built a ranch house very close to the original house, which incidentally was four shacks pulled together.
In 1969, Estelle returned to full-time nursing, making the 100-mile round trip journey between Fairfield and the Dickinson Nursing Center. Estelle worked there as the charge nurse on Unit Two for 30 years, ending her career in 1999 at the age of 76. Her goal was always to ensure that her patients had the best quality care possible. Her life’s mantra has been To God be the glory for the things He has done.
This article was also published in the September 2015 print edition of OUTLOOK. It was written by Dr. Lonna Milburn, daughter of Lonny and Estelle Tachenko, who blends her healthcare background with her executive role in international development.