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Blazing trails, building legacies

At 38 years old, Wanda Ladage was faced with some tough choices. As a newly single mother of four girls, it was up to her to secure an income for her family, but she didn’t stop there. Her courage, work ethic and dedication to serving others blazed a trail not only for her daughters, but for countless others who learned under her leadership.

“Mom started out as a farm wife but then went back to school to be an RN at Labette Community College in Parsons,” said Wanda’s daughter, Kim McMum. “She got her associate’s in nursing, then worked for a few years. She went back to school again, this time to Pittsburg State to get her bachelor's degree in nursing. Then she started teaching at LCC in the nursing program.”

Starting all over again at 38, achieving her degrees and teaching in her field would be accomplishments all on their own, but Wanda kept advancing.

“To continue teaching at LCC, she had to get her master’s in education. So she went back to Pitt State for that degree. Then she became the director of the nursing program at LCC, and while she was director, she went on to K-State to get her doctorate. She was at the college more than 20 years teaching and was also was the dean of education. When she retired, she served on LCC board of directors for many years,” said Kim.

Wanda, who now lives at Parsons Presbyterian Manor, was also the recipient of several awards over the years, including the 2008 Cardinal Citation Award from LCC.

“When an individual possesses high standards of integrity and values and chooses to commit themselves to a life of service, I believe they should be recognized,” said Dr. Dee Bohnenblust, director of nursing education at LCC, who nominated Wanda for the award. “Dr. Ladage has contributed remarkable leadership and sound professional skills to the historical development of the LCC nursing program.”

It’s hard to separate Wanda Ladage from her nursing education legacy, but then again, she’s proud of the trail she blazed for countless more who followed in her footsteps.

“When people find out that I am also a nurse, they assume that my mom was my instructor, too. But then they realize that she started nursing school in 1976, the year I graduated high school,” said Kim. “I was proud of her, and we didn’t know if she could keep up, but she had all As. And back then, it wasn’t common to see adults in the college classroom. In most of her classes, she was oldest one. She was a trailblazer, definitely. She loved school and loved learning. Once she got started she couldn't quit. She might have been 50 by the time she got her doctorate and probably 68 or so before she retired. That’s a 30-year career full of accomplishments. She’s proof that it’s never too late to start something new!”

Of Wanda’s four daughters, only Kim became a nurse. Two became teachers and one an accountant.

“I don't have a degree in teaching, but I retired from nursing home work after 38 years, and am now teaching a health careers class at the high school. My mom is pretty happy about that. I was a nurse, and now I’m a teacher, just like her.”

While Wanda’s impact is certainly seen in each of her daughter’s successful career paths, it’s also seen every day in the community.

“We can hardly go anywhere, especially to any hospital or doctor’s office, without hearing, “I know you! You were my teacher or director. She’s left a long, long legacy.”

So how did she do it all? Kim believes one simple, yet profound thing, got her through it all.

“She loves Jesus, and I think she always tried to love people and serve people like Jesus would. She would say if you want to be first, you have to be last. If you want to be great, you have to serve others. She always loved and served people like Jesus would. And even though she had some really hard times in her life, she still trusted Jesus, and she feels like He got her through.”

Wanda has 12 grandchildren and more than 15 great-grandchildren, and she just celebrated 38 years of marriage with Curt Ladage. She was an accomplished seamstress and made many of her children’s clothes, and even bridesmaids’ dresses. She loved to travel and has visited all 50 states and many places outside of the United States.

“She’s an amazing woman. She’s inspired me and set that example of perseverance.”

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