Woman stays connected through work, God
By Betty Wirth For The Herald-News May 3, 2012 12:06PM
Updated: June 5, 2012 11:25AM
Kay Ernst of New Lenox has an impressive resume — one where the words “psychiatric nurse” blend with “pastoral counselor” and “nurse chaplain.”
Her perseverance in wanting to learn what caused her first child’s death shortly after birth brought her into nursing when she was 32. She also wanted to work with other moms to help them understand.
This vision took her on a journey that has kept God as a constant in her life.
“My faith is very important to me. I couldn’t do anything without the Lord. He has always been there for me,” she said.
She did work in the Obstetrics Department at Silver Cross Hospital for 10 years.
That she has an enormous amount of energy is a given. And a strong work ethic engendered by her family.
“I feel driven to use it appropriately. I don’t expect everyone to have the energy I do. Accept people for who they are, where they’re at. I try to give them motivation,” Ernst said.
It’s another of her roles. She is a motivational speaker. Her topic, “Life is God’s Work of Art,” has taken her before numerous women’s groups. Her own parish, St. Jude’s, has invited her to speak, as has St. Rose in Wilmington.
“I adapt it to the group,” she said. “Life is life. My main goal is to teach someone something about themselves, that they can grow upon.”
At age 48, Ernst set her sights on her master’s degree. She earned it in pastoral counseling at Olivet Nazarene University in Kankakee, adding to her credentials that include a bachelor’s degree in health arts from then-College of St. Francis and before that an associate’s degree in nursing from Joliet Junior College. She also has been licensed as a clinical professional counselor.
She’s still seeing patients at Silver Cross Hospital.
“I feel very strongly as a psychiatric nurse to listen to what they say. Very often in what they’re saying, there is a message. Between the words. Their posture. You hear things,” Ernst said.
The Ernsts have six children, 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, with the seventh and eighth on the way. Her greatest joy is her time with them.
“I’m very spoiled. The grandchildren were born in groups — 24 to 30, two are 16, then the babies, are 8, two are 5 and 3. I’m able to enjoy every age at different times,” she said.
Ernst served two years as director mission services for the Franciscan Sisters of Chicago’s Long Term Care Facilities in Lafayette, Ind., retiring from that post in 2004. She also was nurse chaplain and a nurse at St. Francis Hospital in Blue Island.
Yet, there’s another dimension to her life.
“Here I am working up a storm,” she laughed. “I’m either here, Silver Cross Hospital or home.
“Here” is Milltown Market in Wilmington. When her husband, Gary, lost his job, the couple decided to purchase what was a turnkey operation, an antique facility on North Kankakee Street, in 2007.
“We felt we needed to enhance an already existing shop. Lots of people think it’s a grocery. We kept the same name and we have new things.
“Mostly everything is resale, auctions, garage sales. A large majority of things come from consignments. They bring treasures in, ones they’re going to part with. Or if a family member dies, they make sure that family members get what they want first, then they come to us,” she said.
“I just turned 70,” she said. “Age is a number. For each person the number is different. It’s an accomplishment for me and a blessing to be able to be here at this time. Be active. And making a difference in other people’s lives.”
Reach Betty Wirth at firstname.lastname@example.org.