Good Samaritan: Long-time nurse, single mom of five called ‘Wonder Woman’ by her kids

After three decades as a nurse, Lynette Harman is finally retiring.

Since the 1990s, Harman worked midnight shifts in Munson Medical Center’s Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. It wasn’t easy — Harman had five children at home, whom she was raising on her own. She’d get home from work just in time to put cereal in her kids’ bowls and double-check that all five — Stacey, Lauren, David, Nicole and Robbie — had brushed their teeth and packed their homework for school.

Looking back, her children are amazed at her grit, tenacity and kind-heartedness as Harman put the world on her shoulders in order to give it to her children.

“I knew she struggled. Just not how much she struggled,” said Stacey Harman, her eldest daughter.

“How she sometimes didn’t have a quarter for a cup of coffee at work. How she worried about groceries and electric bills. How she stressed about not being there enough for us. I didn’t know these things because she didn’t let us see her sweat. As far as we knew, she had it all under control and we were the lucky ones.”

Lynette Harman put herself through Northwestern Michigan College’s nursing program in the 1990s — at the time, she was still married. Stacey remembers her mother coming home with syringes, which she would use to practice vaccinating on oranges in their kitchen.

Even after she earned her scrubs, Harman still found time for parenting. She coached softball and basketball teams for Lauren.

Lynette at one point even ran a home day care, where she looked after her own kids as well as the neighbors’. The daycare ran in her off-time, and gave Lynette just hours to rest up before she would need to start her night shift at Munson.

“I don’t know how she found the time,” said Lauren Harman. “I don’t think she slept for 15 years.”

Lauren remembers her mother regularly coming home at 7 a.m., giving her a busy half-hour window to shepherd the five kids from the bed to the bus stop. Missing the bus was a big no-no in the Harman household, said Lauren, since it stretched out Lynette’s long night into a longer morning.

“If you missed the bus and she had to drive us to school we were in big trouble,” Lauren said.

Lynette had some helping hands from neighbors as well. The Harmans grew up in Horizon Hills, a small suburban cluster of houses halfway up Old Mission Peninsula. The neighbors were often checking in on the five kids, inviting them over for dinner or checking in on them while Lynette was away.

“They knew she had her hands full,” Lauren said.

Still, Lynette powered through.

“She was a ball-busting force of nature,” said Stacey, who grew up hearing Lynette’s stories from the emergency room and from patient bedsides. “She walks into a room and she commands it. I’m sure there were plenty of times where it was the doctor’s call and Lynette was there putting her two cents in.”

Lynette also made a habit of covering shifts for other nurses. She’d pick up Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve shifts for other nurses — particularly the single working moms whose stories mirrored her own. Stacey said Lynette was paying it forward — as well as paying back all the nurses that lent a hand covering her shifts when she was raising her own children.

The job she loved became harder throughout COVID-19. Lynette transitioned from the ICU to an administrative role finding beds for newly admitted patients. It was a different role that came with difficult decisions, particularly with the pressure of the pandemic.

Lynette will formally retire on Jan. 4, a little more than a week after her 65th birthday. But she just gave notice to her family that she’ll stay on as an on-call nurse for the hospital — a result of COVID-related short-staffing that has been an issue at hospitals across the country.

Meanwhile, Lynette’s children have since gone on to become success stories in their own right. Robbie, the youngest, coaches basketball at Davenport University after breaking records at Central Michigan University and playing professionally for Basketball Stars Weert, in the Dutch Basketball League.

Nicole landed a job in California as a nanny for Steven Spielberg’s children. Lauren worked as a social worker for many years, as well as a coach and volunteer with the Special Olympics in Lansing.

David and Stacey also went to Los Angeles: David works in real estate development and Stacey works as a screenwriter, writing for the recent Netflix Special “Cobra Kai.”

All have had children of their own, including a round of five within the past year alone. Lynette is now a grandmother to seven.

For her retirement, she’ll have her hands full, Stacey said. She purchased a cottage for herself on Eight Point Lake in Clare County, where she lives next to her four sisters.

The plan, Stacey says, is for Lynette to taxi by pontoon boat between her sisters’ lakefront cottages, to drink wine, kayak, golf and travel — a well-deserved retirement for a nurse who finally has some free time.

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