Posts Tagged ‘super seniors’

A Courageous Pioneer

Monday, June 4th, 2012

New attorney, Sharon Hansen

Recently, I had the privilege of going to the State Capitol building in Lincoln to attend the ceremony where my friend, Sharon Hansen, was sworn in to practice law in the State of Nebraska and in Federal Court.

This comes a year after she graduated from law school. My husband and I attended the hooding ceremony (graduation), as well. Over one hundred students ended an important phase in their lives eager to begin a new career.

Sharon’s mother and I laughed at the part where the speaker wished the group quick success at passing the Bar Exam and finding a job so they didn’t end up “moving back in with their parents.”

You see, Sharon moved out of her parents’ home to marry husband, Bruce 35 years ago. I was at their wedding, too.

UNO Connection

Sharon and I met in in college. She was a friend of a friend. From our first meeting I knew she was destined to conquer every challenge life dared to throw in her path.

The year was 1974 and Sharon was feminism personified—assertive, competitive, determined. Often, she was the only woman in her business classes. She seemed to like it that way—going head-to-head with men. They respected her intelligence, logic, and tenacity.

From the start, I enjoyed her…

My dad and Raisin

Sense of Humor

The first time she met my parents, she arrived early to pick me up for a Halloween party. She was dressed as a raisin. She’d designed her own costume—black tights and a black garbage bag stuffed with crumpled newspaper. It was cinched at the neck and taped closed at the thighs with black electrical tape.

After quick introductions, she freely shared her experience deflecting the stares from strangers as she’d stopped to fill her gas tank on the way to our house. Her chortles bounced off our kitchen walls. She’s always been the first person to laugh at herself.

My dad never called her anything but “Raisin.”

She was the matron of honor at my first wedding. And my second. She’s godmother to both of our daughters. When Allen and I started our business, Right at Home, Sharon told us that when we were ready to take on investors she wanted her name at the top of the list.

Eventually, we did have need of additional capital to begin franchising Right at Home. After reviewing our business plan, she and Bruce invested and now they share the table with us at our Board of Directors meetings. Even before law school, Sharon always gave wise counsel.

Her Early Careers

Sharon started working for the telephone company during college as a customer service operator taking requests for telephone repairs. She took a break from the company after gaining her undergraduate degree in accounting. Very quickly, she determined a career in accounting wasn’t for her. I suspect the solitary task of crunching numbers didn’t fit her personality. She needed to work among people and create.

She went back to the telephone company and bridged her service.

She was one of the first women who qualified and was selected to become a programmer when COBOL was the operating language. I know she was a pioneer because all her co-workers were men. And so were her mentors.

That’s always been the way. It was two male friends who convinced Sharon to apply to Law School. At age fifty, she studied, took the LSAT, and sent the results to Creighton Law School.

Her application was rejected.

One of her mentors, a graduate of Creighton Law School went to bat for Sharon and spoke to the dean on her behalf. Creighton tested her commitment by offering her admission if she retook the LSAT and received a higher score. She studied, took it again. Her score improved and she joined the freshman class of law students in 2007.

Sharon, her mentors and favorite law school professor

The Silver-Haired Law Student

Because she wanted to ease back into her study habits, Sharon chose the four-year program. As with everything else, Sharon had a plan—to study six days a week. Often, she was in the law library on the seventh day, as well.

She put many of her life activities on hold during that time. For years she’s belonged to a running club called “Ladies of the Evening.” She started running in her 40’s and completed three ½ marathons in her 40’s and 50’s. Although she still worked out at Creighton’s gym several times a week, she suspended her activities with the “ladies.”

I’m sure they missed her.

Two obligations Sharon kept on her schedule were her non-paying positions on both the Sarpy County Board of Adjustment and the Bellevue Planning Commission.

I snatched whatever time I could with Sharon in those four years. Often that meant a quick breakfast at a mid-town diner on a day when she didn’t have class. I could have hung out drinking coffee for two or three hours, but as soon as we’d exchanged news of current life events, she headed to the law library.

I wasn’t angry. I hardly even moped that our friendship had to be put on hold. Because I knew in the end my friend would achieve her goal, be satisfied with her accomplishment and return to me.

Another Hurdle

I’ve never seen her break down and cry, not even when she told me she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer. The discovery was made right before finals in her second year of law school. She waited two months before telling me. I suspect it was her way of keeping it together. She was about to fall apart and trash all her hard work. Her lumpectomy, treatment plan, and prognosis were completed before she even told me the diagnosis. Then she couldn’t look me in the eye. I didn’t demand it. She chose to tell me at “our” mid-town diner where she knew she couldn’t break down. I didn’t push.

I didn’t worry about her, either. You’d think I might panic at the thought of losing my best friend. But it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t beat cancer. She’d tackled and won every struggle she’d ever undertaken.

Thankfully, Sharon’s cancer is in remission providing her all the opportunity to pursue her next career in the practice of law.

Sharon reading to Kellini

I’ve only seen Sharon shaken one time. We asked her to watch our four-year-old daughter while we went away for the weekend to Louisville, KY to our friend’s 40th birthday party. Sharon picked up Kellini from pre-school convinced that the child wouldn’t eat lunch or dinner because of the Valentine’s candy she’d eaten during the class party. Sharon knew differently when Kellini awoke in the middle of the night vomiting. Sharon called her mother and then my mother (who was watching Kellini’s younger sister, McKenna.)

They were of little help.

Reluctantly, Sharon called me early the next morning and Allen and I hurried home. We were only gone 30 hours. It was the only time I’ve ever seen Sharon flustered. We didn’t blame her though, Kellini WAS sick, as was her sister and they remained sick for the rest of the week. I have no doubt that if Sharon and her husband had chosen parenthood; she would have easily handled Kellini’s illness, as competently as she handles everything else.

The Professors’ Contemporary

Sharon earned the admiration of many of her law professors. She worked for one, proofreading his law text manuscript. Her thoroughness and dedication earned her space on the acknowledgement page.

Another professor encouraged her to compete in mock trials. One team she joined competed at nationals; another team took first in its brief and third in oral argument.

For several spring breaks, Sharon joined a group of students who hiked with another professor in Minnesota and South Dakota. She matched the twenty-three-year-olds step for step.

I only really worried about Sharon once during this phase in her life—when she became so discouraged by the results of her first Bar Exam. She missed the passing cut-off score by one-half of a point. At the encouragement of her professor, Sharon appealed the score, writing and presenting an argument in front of the Nebraska State Bar Commission.

They ruled against her.

Disheartened, Sharon threatened to quit. I honestly didn’t know how to help her. I didn’t want the last few years of study to go to waste, but I knew her disappointments had taken a toll. In the end, all I could do was to offer my support—whatever her decision.

She jumped back into studying for the Bar Exam. Took the test again; this time feeling more relaxed about the process and more optimistic about the outcome.

I was the first person she called when she opened the envelope congratulating her for her success at passing the Bar Exam. We hooted and hollered for ten minutes over the phone.

Sharon and I celebrate

My Heroine

The strong, no-nonsense women of my first novels were all modeled after Sharon Hansen. One so closely matched her life story that I probably need a signed release so her family won’t sue me. If I ever sell that novel, I now know a great attorney who can draw up that release—Sharon—my heroine and my best friend.