At the heart of Frontier Nursing University is a talented and diverse community of students, alumni, faculty, staff, Couriers and preceptors. Spotlight blogs feature members of our FNU community that are focused on the mission of educating nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners to deliver quality health care to underserved and rural populations.
In 1928, Mary Breckinridge, founder of Frontier Nursing University established the Courier Program, recruiting young people to come work in the Kentucky Mountains and learn about service to humanity. Couriers escorted guests safely through remote terrain, delivered medical supplies to remote outpost clinics, and helped nurse-midwives during home visits and births. Frontier has benefited tremendously from the 1,600 Couriers who have served since 1928.
In 1963, Leslie Olivas went to Wendover to serve as a Courier. She learned of the Courier Program from a classmate at her high school who had been to Frontier. Leslie enjoyed riding horses and wanted to learn more about nursing, so the Courier Program seemed like a great opportunity. Leslie took a year off from college and traveled to Wendover .
As a Courier, Leslie exercised horses and a mule, ran errands for the midwives, fed malnourished infants at the hospital, and even painted the whole Beechfork Clinic. Leslie also occasionally attended home births with the midwives, holding a flashlight so the midwives could see to catch the babies!
She was particularly interested in the spirituality of the Appalachian people in Eastern Kentucky. Community members held prayer groups in their homes, and Leslie remembers taking the jeeps across the river to go to church services.
On one home visit with a midwife from New Zealand, Leslie was riding a horse and the midwife was riding a mule. She heard the midwife call out her name; when she turned around she saw that the midwife’s saddle was slipping and she was about to fall off. All turned out well, but Leslie and the midwife laughed about this until their stomachs hurt!
Leslie had the opportunity to assist one nurse in traveling from home to home to give the community members a vaccine for Polio. She learned a lot about the atmosphere and environment of the resident’s homes in Hyden. “The closeness and caring of neighbors was so beautiful and I always kept that with me,” she remembers.
Leslie remembers helping fix tea for Mary Breckinridge. She enjoyed talking with Mrs. Breckinridge and listening to her stories. She gained valuable advice from their talks that Leslie still carries with her today, particularly about public speaking. Leslie describes Mrs. Breckinridge as a very sweet, humble, and kind woman whose faith was the basis of her work.
Unfortunately, towards the end of her time in the Courier Program, Leslie was in a terrible car accident. She suffered from a concussion and a broken back. After this accident, Leslie was not able to return to Wendover. She stayed close to home during her recovery and started nursing school that same fall.
As a result of her experiences as a Courier, Leslie was inspired to become a nurse midwife. It took her ten years, but she graduated from Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY. In her career, Leslie has attended the births of 125 babies and has had 5 babies of her own. She has worked in obstetrics for 30 years, and currently works with Native American mothers with the Indian Health Service in Phoenix, Arizona, where she has encounters with many Frontier Nursing University students.
“I feel the main tracks of my life had roots in my experience at Frontier Nursing Service. Being a Courier there was an invaluable experience for me… I am very grateful to FNS for the experiences I had in my youth. How wonderful that many young women will have this same opportunity!”