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Canadian-born Myrna Nystrom relishes U.S.

Aaron Hagen/Daily Globe Myrna Nystrom, a native of Canada, poses behind her desk at Worthington High School Monday afternoon.

WORTHINGTON -- The reason Myrna Nystrom came to Worthington was pretty simple.

"I fell in love," she said.

Talking from inside her classroom at Worthington High School, Nystrom told the tale of how she wound up in the southwest Minnesota community.

"I was up at Bethel College getting my college education and I met a fellow who was going to the University and fell in love," she said.

Nystrom and her husband, Chuck, have lived in town ever since, with Myrna teaching in the communication arts department, specifically ninth-grade English composition and English literature.

"I was always interested in reading," Myrna said. "As I went through school, that seemed to be the class I connected most directly to. I think I've always been a teacher. In church and community, 4-H and things like this, there was always an element in me where I was always trying to give information."

Born and raised in Canada, Myrna came to the United States to attend college in the fall of 1971.

"I did already have a college degree when I came down here," she explained. "Here I was coming for my second degree, so it was in my early 20s.

"Our church had a connection with the same church conference Bethel was in. I had applied to a few others. But Bethel seemed to have what I wanted as far as getting my teaching degree."

Myrna was born in a small town in Alberta and lived there until she left for Bethel.

"Sometimes I'm surprised I decided to do it," she said. "I'm not usually a risk taker. As I look back at it, it might have been a little bit of a risk, I don't know. One of the things that surprises me, in a way, was the school I went to. It was a small school -- none of the graduates had left Alberta, except for me, for a couple of decades. I'm surprised that I'm the one that left."

For Myrna, the transition into the United States was relatively easy.

"I think because the communities are really quite similar," she explained. "Ours was Scandinavian, German and British. A lot of the things that they brought over as far as heritage were pretty similar. The attitudes towards things were pretty similar.

"Another thing that made it very similar is that I went from a strong family connection there to Chuck's family, which is a really strong family. I kind of moved into another family, which really helped."

Myrna grew up on a farm in Alberta, and is now deeply imbedded into the farming community.

"It's almost interesting that I ended up on a farm," she said. "As I was growing up, I saw the hard work involved in a farm. I thought, 'I'm not going to farm.' Certainly, I really love the farm. That was just a lazy teenager's attitude."

A Canadian farm wasn't quite the same than what it is in the U.S.

"The farming was a little bit different there, maybe like it was 30 years earlier," she said. "The farms there almost all had cattle and hogs and chickens and hay and short grain. There were no soybeans or corn. There is now, but then there wasn't."

Myrna isn't an American citizen, but has a deep-rooted love for the country.

"I really do love the United States," she said. "My kids even notice, they say how much it bothers me when people disrespect the American flag or the pledge or something. I think, 'You have no idea what a wonderful country you live in.' I really do feel that. It's a marvelous country, and so is Canada."

Myrna has lived in Worthington since 1973, and has been teaching for many years.

"Because I had my green card -- which throughout the years has been white and pink and blue, never green -- it wasn't difficult at all," she said of getting a teaching job. "I had the education and the licenses and the card that said I could work."

She took time off when her children were younger -- Myrna has three children and one grandchild -- but came back to work in the early '90s.

Her daughter, Joanne, lives in Bangladesh, where she teaches English literature at the Asian University for Women. Joanne has a 3 1/2- old-son, Kelyn.

"When she was getting her doctorate, she started looking for jobs," Myrna said. "Her husband noticed this one posting. She's always been interested in women being able to kind of be leaders for their families and specifically be educated for their children. He thought this position sounded wonderful for her. He's more adventurous than she is. But she thought, 'OK, I'll try,' and she got the position."

Mryna's son, Keith, lives in the Twin Cities, where he is a musician and a deep-tissue massage therapist.

Her daughter, Valerie, recently moved to Akron, Iowa, with her husband, who is also a teacher.

Myrna's mother still lives in Alberta, and her brother is on the family farm. She has a sister who lives in Calgary and another in Portland.

She travels back to Canada at least once a year.

"They claim I have an accent, which they say I have here," Myrna said. "I think it would be pretty similar to anybody coming back here if they had been gone a while. There are changes in buildings and in businesses. When you go back, you notice some of the difference. Of course, I notice how big hockey is."

Myrna explained how Friday and Saturday are hockey nights in Canada.

"Every Friday night you would go to the local hockey rink and watch a hockey game," she said. "It could be high school kids, but usually it would be young adults, local and non-professional. Saturday night, you would get your popcorn and watch the professional teams on TV. Hockey night in Canada is Saturday night."

As an immigrant to the U.S., Myrna has been able to live the American dream.

"When this community talks about immigrants, they wouldn't pick me out in a lineup and say, 'That's an immigrant,'" she said. "I hope I'm kind of example to the students here that immigrants are all ages and sizes and colors. We don't fit any particular stereotype, I don't think."

Now, as someone who molds young minds, Myrna encourages her students to dream big -- just like she did years ago.

"I wish more students would dream bigger," she said. "That's one thing I would like to instill on them. You can just dream really big, even from Worthington."

While she will always be Canadian at heart, there is no doubt Myrna has a fondness for the United States.

"I love this country," she said.

"Canada is my family, but the U.S. are my friends. I don't want to deny either one of them."

Readers may reach Daily Globe community content coordinator Aaron Hagen at 376-7323.