When Alice Yeager had lost just about everything else, she still had her faith.
The Davenport, Iowa, native had a rough time of it when she first moved to North Dakota Aug. 26, 1986. Freshly divorced, she had two dogs, two kids and three horses. The girlfriend who was going to move to Minot with her ended up not coming, so Yeager didn't know a soul when she got here. Her animals and children were the extent of her life at the time, and things didn't exactly get off to a promising start.
"It started raining that night," Yeager said. "I got everything unloaded out of the truck and then it started raining and didn't quit."
Alice Yeager stands in All Saints Episcopal Church Thursday afternoon. Yeager has been deacon in the church for the past year.
It rained so much that Yeager lost her job as a flagman for Des Lacs Sand and Gravel before she ever really started.
"I worked one 14-hour day, and then it started snowing," she said. "It was just tough."
With snow on the ground, there wasn't much of a need for flagmen, so Yeager was laid off. She lost a total of three outdoor jobs in Minot because of the weather.
To pile things on, her daughter's best friend had an accident with Yeager's pickup truck. A month later, she was driving into Minot from the home she rented in Sawyer when her truck threw a rod. The next day she was evicted because she couldn't pay her rent.
"That was the first seven months that I lived in North Dakota," Yeager said.
Yeager couldn't even afford propane for the house. With no hot water and no usable stove, Yeager and her two children ate out of her crock pot for five months.
She was going to the Minot Adult Learning Center at the time, and was directed to Community Action after her eviction. Things were eventually worked out to allow Yeager to stay in the house until she could find an apartment in Minot.
What got her through such a disastrous start to life in North Dakota? Faith.
"I discovered that I had a lot of faith that I didn't even realize, and I had to get up because I had to be an example for my kids," she said.
Her son, Bryan, now lives in Gearhart, Ore., while her daughter, Robyn Brakel, is married to a captain in the Air Force and attends the University of Texas at San Antonio. Robyn has two daughters, Maya, 12, and Christina, 20.
In the years since she first got here, Yeager has held just about every job imaginable. In addition to working at Sykes Enterprises in Minot for 10 years, she has also worked in a nursing home, been a bartender, waitress, cook, cab driver, secretary, pastry cook, puppeteer, and has also been involved in home health care.
"And I was a clown for many years," she added with a laugh. "I was Shylow the clown."
She currently works with people with disabilities at the Minot Vocational Adjustment Workshop, and has been there for three years.
"I love it, I just love it. This is the best job I've ever had. Most of the time," she said with a laugh. "I like to be able to help people. I have a fantastic staff that I work with. I think it's the people that I work with that make it so enjoyable."
Yeager has also furthered her education, working through the business program at the Minot Adult Learning Center and graduating from Minot State University in 1994 with a business administration degree.
It was faith that got Yeager through all the rough patches when she first came to North Dakota, and it was faith once again that directed her life in an unexpected way on March 10, 1999, when she had a stroke.
She couldn't speak or walk, and her right arm was paralyzed. Prior to the stroke, she had attended All Saints Episcopal Church a few times with a friend, and the priest there at the time, Father Paul Rider, made regular visits to her in the hospital, giving Communion, and offering encouragement and support.
That simple act by someone who was basically a stranger of reaching out to Yeager in a time of need meant the world to her, and she started attending the church regularly.
"I had gone to a couple Christmas parties and whenever there was something special I was always invited, but I really never knew them very well," Yeager said. "But it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling being here, because I feel like this is where I belong."
Coming back from that stroke was the most difficult thing Yeager has ever had to do. By her own admission, she is not a quiet person, which made losing her ability to speak unbelievably frustrating.
"Not being able to form words, and you can think things but you can't say them because your mouth doesn't cooperate with your brain," she said. "It makes it really tough."
Not being able to use her right hand was also difficult, as she had no idea how much she relied on it until she lost her ability to control it.
"I couldn't hold a pen, I couldn't pick up a fork, I couldn't do anything. I had to relearn everything," she said. "You don't realize that you use your hands so much."
Yeager went to speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy for six months after her stroke, finally regaining the use of her body again. Through it all Father Paul visited regularly and helped however he could.
Her stroke wasn't Yeager's first brush with a serious medical issue, either. A brain tumor when she was 11 had a serious effect on her eye sight until it was successfully removed.
"I was losing my eye sight, I would go blind for a couple minutes at a time," Yeager said. "I would throw up a lot and have terrible headaches."
Although Father Paul would move on from All Saints Episcopal Church, Yeager became more and more involved over the years. She has been a deacon for the past year, helping with things like setting up for church services, distributing wine, saying the gospel, visiting the sick, taking Communion to shut-ins, and praying with people. She also helps serve in the soup kitchen every Thursday.
"We are servants of God, basically," Yeager said of deacons. "That's the main thing. We're just servants."
Being a deacon wasn't something Yeager was always comfortable with. Various priests had encouraged her to consider taking on that role over the years, but she always felt she wasn't worthy.
"I really didn't feel like I deserved to be a deacon, but God doesn't call the qualified, he qualifies the called," Yeager said.
After many years, she felt the time was finally right to get more involved. After three years of study, Yeager became a deacon this past year and has enjoyed her duties tremendously.
"I love it, I just love it," she said. "I didn't think I had anything to offer, but I've found out since I have a lot to offer."
"I think this is where God wants me to be," she added.
Although she loves her new role with the church, Yeager doesn't regret for a moment not starting that phase of her life earlier. She said she simply wasn't ready when she was first asked.
"You know when you're ready to take that big step," she said.
When she has a spare minute here or there, she likes to cross stitch, quilt, read, and when she gets a chance, she loves to ride horses. Since she doesn't get the opportunity to ride horses as much as she likes, she has to be content with riding her bike to work. At least until the weather gets colder.
Yeager has had more than her fair share of challenges over the years, but she believes God put her on this Earth to be a good example. Throughout her many varied jobs, the one constant for Yeager has been her love of helping people. After receiving so much help herself during her stroke recovery, it has only made her more appreciative of all she is now able to do for others.
"I feel like I'm trying to give back to people because I've been given so much," she said. "The Lord has been very good to me."
(Prairie Profile is a weekly feature profiling interesting people in our region. We welcome suggestions from our readers. Call Regional Editor Eloise Ogden at 857-1944 or Managing Editor Kent Olson at 857-1939. Either can be reached at 1-800-735-3229. You also can send e-mail suggestions to mdnews@minot