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About Nora Staael Evert

Click here for the application and qualifications for the Nora Staael Evert Award

Nora Bothilda Staael was born to Danish immigrants on a farm near Veblen, South Dakota on May 2nd, 1904.  Nora's parents met in Aberdeen, SD where Christian Staael was visiting his sick brother Peter, and where Mary Mikkelsen worked as a domestic.  Nora, a tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and athletic girl, was the fifth of six children.  Nora was especially close to her older brothers Soren and Ernest.

In the fall of 1918, at age 13, Nora and her sister Helen went to Aberdeen to attend high school in the prenormal program at Northern Normal and Industrial School in Aberdeen because there was no high school in Veblen. Nora was an above-average student and did best in classes with some kind of physical activity—physical education, penmanship, and drawing.  She also had an artistic streak and enjoyed classes in artistic design.  The flu epidemic of 1918 forced college to close early – Nora returned home to Veblen.  Called those months at home her “flu vacation.”  Desperately wanted to stay home, but her father put her back on train for Aberdeen. 

In her second year of high school Nora's interest in physical education was growing and in the second (winter) quarter of 1919-1920, she did “double work” in a Physical Education class.  Nora roomed and worked off-campus at Pappa's Candy Store in Aberdeen.  Roomed with family above store.  Had to get up in the middle of the night to care for kids.  The 1920-21 school year was a banner one for Nora.  She received her best grades that year earning top marks in general science, geography, and physical education. In the 1921-22 school year, Nora continued to take required classes and the "State Course" in teacher education in the spring of 1922.  Nora finished her pre-normal high school program in the fall of 1922. Nora was 17 years old when she graduated.  She could not start teaching, however, because she was not 18 years of age as required by South Dakota law.  After graduating from high school in the fall of 1922, Nora took a teaching job in a one-room school in Veblen.  She was 18 years old, paid $90 a month, taught 30 or so children – some had just come from Norway and couldn’t speak English.  

Nora returned to Aberdeen to take college classes at NSTC in the summer of 1923.  Her experience teaching school in Veblen soured her on elementary education and Nora was looking for more.  By the spring of 1924, she had earned As and Bs in twelve of her fourteen classes.  In the fall of 1924 Nora took a class in aesthetic dancing.  This dancing class was her first experience in what would become a life-long passion for movement.  Nora played basketball and later coached woman's basketball. Nora also ran track and field where her best event was the high hurdles.  Nora fondly remembered "telegraphic track meets."  Schools would simultaneously compete on their own fields and then telegraph the results to determine meet winners.  Nora was voted Best Woman Athlete at NSTC in 1925.

From 1925-1926 Nora worked in Aberdeen as full-time instructor of Junior High School Girls Physical Education to earn money to return to school.  Nora taught eight physical education classes with 70 students in each class.  Also teaches after-school soccer to Aberdeen kids and later called soccer her “any kid, anywhere” sport.  In 1926 Nora wanted to play tennis, so she worked for one whole year in Aberdeen to save money for a tennis racquet.  She used to help the groundskeeper roll out the lawn to play.  Then she would wait for men to play with because women "did not play hard enough for her."  In 1926 Nora also took a job as the supervisor of physical education and playgrounds in Aberdeen, as well as teach at seven elementary schools.  That summer Nora went to Camp Edith Macy in Briarcliff Manor, New York in the summer of 1926.  Goes with friend Jean Helgeson to attend the First Girl Scout camp national conference.  Camp Macey called the "University in the Woods."  Jean and Nora return to Aberdeen to start the city's first Girl Scout troop.

Nora returned to college full time in the fall of 1927, abandoned physical education classes, and took sociology classes and major to graduate.  Nora received her B.S. in Education from Northern State Teachers College in 1929.  She majored in Sociology and Economics and had minors in English, Biology, and History.  Nora's favorite poem during here college years shows her ambition and wanderlust.  The poem was Walt Whitman's "Song of the Open Road" and began:   

                                  "Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road

                                     Healthy, free, the world before me

                                  the long brown path before me leading where I choose

                                  ... Strong and content, I travel the open road."

Nora left Aberdeen during the Depression in 1931 at the age of 26 to enroll at Columbia Teachers College in New York City.  There she earns a M.A. in Physical Educaton with an emphasis on dance in 1932.  Nora taught for the next seven years at Sweetbriar College in Virginia.  Nora taught archery and field hockey; she learned how to plays the sports from equipment salesmen.  Nora spent Christmas and other vacations at modern dance with New York professionals.  She described herself as "Student in Modern Dance."  Nora worked with pioneers of Modern Dance Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, Charles Weidman, and Emily Hewitt.  During the summers Nora would return to Veblen to help her brothers on the farm.  In 1939 and 1940 Nora was the assistant professor of sports at St. Cloud State University where she also taught the entire dance program.  From 1940-42 Nora taught modern dance at the University of Texas at Austin and at Baylor University in Waco the summer of 1942. 

In the summer of 1942 Nora entered the Emergency Program in Physical Therapy at the Mayo Clinic.  By 1944 she was a practicing PT at the Mayo working for $110 per month.  Nora complained to her boss and got everyone a raise to $125 per month.  In 1945 she moved to the University of Illinois Research and Education Hospital in downtown Chicago where she was paid $350 per month.  It was there that Nora became the first licensed, full-time physical therapist.  Nora was known for always rewarding her patients.

From there Nora moved to Salt Lake City because it had the least amount of physical therapists.  After Salt Lake, Nora moved on to Santa Monica California where she was the Chief PT and Director of Physical Therapy at Kabat-Kaiser Institute.  Nora spent three years there working with Propriosceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), and a broad range of rehabilitation techniques for polio victims. Nora left Kabat-Kaiser in 1953.

At this time Nora moved to Missoula Montana where she became the Chief Physical Therapist at the Crippled Children's Center at Memorial Hospital, then on to be a Physical Therapist at Northern Pacific Hospital from 1958-1963.  Nora acquired Rheumatic illness that required her to temporarily retire from 1963-1966. Nora noted that she was "inactive for three years--generalized arthritis-beginning with swollen knees and feet.  Had to wear men's shoes."  She joined the faculty of the University of Montana in there "pre-physical therapy" program in 1967.  It was there that Nora enthusiastically returns to work, starts a rehabilitation clinic, arranges teaching programs and public forum featuring recognized experts, and finds equipment and space for a new physical therapy department.  She also helps to design the department.  Nora was forced to retire in 1979; the same year a "complete" physical therapy program was established at the University of Montana.

On May 10th, 1980 Nora Staael married Dr. John Evert in Washington State.  A reception was held on May 18th 1980 in Missoula, the same day as the Mt. Saint Helens eruption.  Dr. Evert remembers driving Nora and her sister in the mountains near Lolo that day, and noticing a big dark cloud to the west; though it was a storm.  Nora was afflicted with macular degeneration; gave on interview in 1994 as she goes blind.

Nora Staael Evert died on Saturday 12 April 2003 at the age of 98 at Evergreen Care Center in Missoula, Montana.  Buried in Palestine Evangelical Lutheran Church Cemetery in Veblen, SD.

*Chronology courtesy of Dr. David Grettler, NSU,  on behalf of the family of Nora Staael Evert.


2016 Recipient: Lorena Pettet-Payne

Lorena Pettet Payne received the 2016 Nora Staael-Evert Award. She was nominated by Mary Jo Lusin. Please join us in congratulating Lorena on this much deserved award. Below are pieces of Mary Jo’s nomination letter for Lorena, that highlights Lorena’s many outstanding attributes as a physical therapist.

“Lorena has extensive clinical experiences during the 33 years as a physical therapist, from Arizona, to Michigan, to Utah and the last 15 years in Montana. She has practiced in a variety of settings, including hospital, home health, special education, and out-patient.

“She has enhanced her education, knowledge and clinical skills through many studies and courses, most notably the study for and completion of the APTA Specialty, Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS). Other educational enhancements include “BIG” Certification and Nordic Pole Walking Instruction. Both of these techniques she uses regularly with her patients.

“Lorena is very creative and forward thinking. Examples of this include her initiative within the realm of cccupational physical therapy. She has established many programs for employers to institute for the preventive occupational health of employees.

“Her peer clinicians are always impressed with her creative and thorough approach to patient care. She has many a skill and option in her ‘bag of tricks’ to enhance patient care and to assist the patients to an understanding of the PT program they are involved in. She teaches them well. Lorena’s work on jobsites includes educating employees and employers, using many common sense tools to establish improved work conditions for employee safety and musculoskeletal health. She is always researching for the latest evidence in clinical matters and policy.

“Lorena has been a practice owner for many years. She has been very involved at the state and national level regarding many topics effecting the physical therapy profession, both locally and nationally.

“Lorena believes in the commitment to the future of physical therapy by involvement with professional physical therapy students. In 2012 she completed the “Advanced Credentialed Clinical Instructor” training. She continues to accept professional students for internship experiences. She presents as a guest lecturer at University of Montana on the topic of occupational health physical therapy. She initiated the “Clinical Minute” for our staff meetings at which a topic or concept is presented in abbreviated form, to stimulate the minds and knowledge-base for our therapists. She is a leader in many things of this nature. Lorena jumps at any and all education opportunities. These are certainly a benefit to the population addressed. As well, these provide an opportunity to promote the profession and expose the public to what physical therapists have to offer.

“Lorena is not an 8-5 clinician or employee. She is on-duty and ready to go at all times, with a commitment that is unwavering to the profession. More importantly, she upholds the same commitment to the patient, that being the focus of her life in physical therapy.”

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