The Day I Met Margene

I walked into Margene’s Wagstaff’s office in the spring of 1977 wearing a jean skirt that I’d embroidered with flowers and a gauzy peasant top. My hippy garb was out of place with Margene’s prim and proper attire. She wore a coordinated sweater set and plaid skirt with pearls  and classy loafers. We couldn’t have looked any more different from each other.

But we hit it off immediately. A disillusioned undergrad, I was interested in nutrition but uninspired with the traditional career paths for dietitians (which were clinical, food service, or public health). Margene had recently founded a new model program in Community-Medical Dietetics at Viterbo College. She smiled with empathy and understanding as I explained my dilemma. Then she surprised me: “You remind me of myself at your age.” I was thinking we were very, very different.

Margene’s enthusiasm and her vision for the future of dietetics captured my interest. She was prescient. Partly, because she had been collating and abstracting the nutrition and medical research articles for the Journal of the American Dietetic Association for 20+ years. But also because she instinctively connected dots and built coalitions.

Margene described how healthcare delivery would expand beyond the hospital into more community-based services. And as a result, the roles of clinical and public health dietetics would blur. I remember her saying that clinical dietitians would deliver care in fitness centers and grocery stores. She envisioned that public health dietitians would provide diabetes and other clinical services in community settings. Margene portrayed these future dietitians in very exciting ways. She described how they would communicate through the media. And how they would collaborate with other healthcare professionals to pioneer in preventative medicine.

I was sold. I walked out of her office knowing that I wanted to become one of those future dietitians.

Margene helped me transfer to Viterbo and enroll in the Community-Medical Dietetics Program. She made sure the Financial Aid department explored all avenues because I was putting myself through college. Margene helped me resolve prerequisite requirements through independent study courses. She even hired me to do computer coding and data entry for a Nutrient Data Bank that the dietetics program was building with a coalition of community partners.

Throughout my undergraduate training (and beyond), she served as a sounding board and calming influence whenever I faced a challenge that got in the way of my dreams.

The dietetics program she created gave me opportunities to work in both traditional and nontraditional settings. I interacted with some of the best medical teams in Wisconsin, including periodic immersive days at Mayo Clinic. Through these experiences and my 1:1 conversations with Margene, I realized that my career did not need to follow a prescribed course. One clinical rotation in the adult fitness/cardiac rehabilitation program at the University of Wisconsin‑La Crosse led to my first professional job. And I later decided to obtain a master’s degree in that program.

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