It’s often said that the family that prays together stays together. Michael and Lesley Leach of Omaha, Neb., are an African American married couple who take togetherness to a whole new level. Raising three children while both working outside jobs, they still managed to fulfill their dream of graduating from nursing school at the same time. On December 10, 2004, the couple donned caps and gowns and walked hand-in-hand across the stage to receive their BSN degrees from the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) College of Nursing.
Lesley, who was born and raised in North Omaha and whose father used to manufacture plastic heart valves, grew up dreaming of becoming a doctor. She also dreamed of spending her first year of college at a historically black college or university. So when she graduated from high school and was offered a full-ride scholarship to the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO), she turned it down and enrolled at Lincoln University, a historically black school.
When she returned to Omaha for Christmas, she took a job at the post office to make some money over the holidays. “At the time, I enjoyed making money more than going to school,” she recalls. “I finished my year at Lincoln and then joined the U.S. Postal Service full time as a management trainee in 1992.”
Not surprisingly, Lesley did very well at the Postal Service. In just a few years, she was transferred to Tulsa, Okla., where she managed a team of employees. There she noticed a smart, athletic young man who worked in the finance department. Eventually Michael Leach introduced himself. The two hit it off when they discovered they shared many of the same values—strong religious faith, church participation and a belief in the importance of education. Soon they were also sharing a great deal of respect and love for each other. They married in 1994 and had two children, Michael Jr., now 9, and daughter Kennedy, 8. (Their third child, baby Cayden, was born during the couple’s last year of nursing school.)
“We Wanted to Make a Difference”
Like Lesley, Michael had grown up with his own aspirations toward a health care career. His mother was a registered nurse. After high school, he served as a medic in the U.S. Army for seven years—four years of active duty and three more in the Army Reserves. He is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, the first U.S. war in Iraq.
Once he was out of the military and back with Lesley in Tulsa, Michael rejoined the Postal Service. But Lesley wanted to come back home to Omaha because she missed her family. The couple also realized that they wanted their children to value getting a college education and the best way to make that happen was to set the example themselves. They resolved to move back to Omaha where they would have more family support and could develop a plan for earning side-by-side college degrees.
Lesley was able to transfer back to Omaha and stay with the Postal Service, but Michael had to resign because there was no equivalent job for him there. So when he came to Nebraska, he found his own eclectic path to employment. He worked at the Douglas County Youth Center and for three seasons he also played for the semi-pro Omaha Beef football team. Lesley eventually began teaching fitness classes at a local YMCA, and both she and her husband embarked together on a bodybuilding and fitness routine.
“We knew that if we were going to go to school full time while also working and raising our children, we would need to keep ourselves in very good physical condition,” Lesley explains. “Otherwise, we might run out of energy or develop some health issues that could knock us off track.”
The couple enrolled in the pre-nursing program at UNO in 2000, then transferred to UNMC’s College of Nursing in 2002.
“We had originally considered majoring in sports medicine, but it seemed like that might be difficult to develop into a career,” says Michael. “But with nursing, there are so many specialty areas you can work in. We felt that we’d not only be able to always find work—there’s going to be a huge shortage of nurses for some years to come—we’d also never get bored.”
Learning to Juggle
So just how does a married couple manage to juggle an intensive academic program, jobs, staying physically fit and raising three kids, all at the same time?
“We have to stay very, very focused,” says Lesley. “We’ve been in our routine for so long, it’s become second nature for the whole family. The kids are in bed at eight. No discussions about it. Michael and I had to do our homework, exercise routines and all our own personal stuff after the kids were tucked in. We are just a time management household. Our children understand and go with the flow. You raise your children to do what has to be done so that the entire family can take care of business and prosper together.”
And prosper together they do. Mike Jr. attends the Jesuit Middle School and also plays running back and defensive back for the “Li’l Viks” football team. His team, coached by dad Mike Sr., won the league championship in 2004. Kennedy attends the Columbian Middle School and is an outstanding scholar and musician.
Lesley has accepted her first nursing position at Alegent Immanuel Medical Center, working in post-intensive care. Michael recently started his first position in the cardiac progressive unit at UNMC/The Nebraska Medical Center. But neither Lesley Leach, BSN, RN, or Michael Leach, BSN, RN, is through with their nursing education just yet.
In the next two years, they will go back to school—one at a time this time—for master’s-level training to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA). There’s just one slight problem: The nearest schools with CRNA programs are in Iowa, Missouri and South Dakota, which means that Michael and Lesley will each have to leave home to get their degrees. But if past experience is anything to go by, you can be sure that the Leach family will do what they always do—make a plan, find a way and keep taking care of business together.