Winnebago Woman Defined By Her Success

Photos courtesy Claudine Cohen /Jade Farmer, Winnebago, is a student at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Jade Farmer overcame many struggles and will be first in her family to earn bachelor's degree.

Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you. They’re supposed to help you discover who you are.

Before she was even born, the cards were stacked against Jade Farmer. Her father died five months before she was born at age 18, leaving her teenage mother to raise her on her own. Despite alarming statistics of teenage parents and limited education, Claudine Farmer was determined to make her life better for herself and her daughter.

At age 17, three years younger than Jade is now, Claudine gave birth; a year later she earned her GED. She also attended Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and University of Wisconsin-Baraboo, graduating with honors with an associate’s degree in ethnic studies and is only 14 credits shy of earning her bachelor’s degree.

Jade and her mom Claudine

“While raising Jade, there were not many times she didn’t see me reading or writing,” Claudine said of her oldest and only daughter. “Jade was taught to always work hard and to never give up.”

As a Winnebago Indian, Jade learned how to overcome obstacles by watching her mom, who is now employed as the communications officer for the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

“I am so lucky to have such a wonderful and caring mother to push me to be my best in every aspect of my life. I wouldn’t be where I am without her,” Jade said.

And where is she today? After graduating with a class of 24 from Bancroft-Rosalie High School in Bancroft, Nebraska in 2011, Jade enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, where today she is a sophomore business major.

Raising a family of three, which includes younger brothers Sammy and Gavin, Claudine taught her children through action that hard work and determination eventually pays off. And through that action, Jade will become the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Her dedication to her education is getting noticed, too.

Recently, Jade was one of 10 Nebraskans chosen to share more than $52,000 in renewable “Reaching Your Potential” scholarships from EducationQuest Foundation.

“I want to set an example for younger students and show them that they can go to college and that there’s people out there willing to help them succeed if they put in the effort,” the 20-year-old said.

Jade doesn’t have to look very deep down her family tree to find more inspirations. Her great-grandmother, Dorothy Irene Bear-Holstein, became the first woman and first Native American woman to be named to the Nebraska School Board in the 1960s and Siouxland National Bank board of directors all while owning her own business in Winnebago for 20 years.

Despite never having the chance to meet her father, Leonard Zach Jr. is never far from her mind.

“I just wonder if he’s proud of me and if I’m on the right path. I wonder what he was like, and I wish I could have met him once or he could have at least held me,” Jade said of her father, who graduated from Walthill High School in Walthill, Nebraska in 1992. “Even though I miss him every day, I love the way my life has turned out because I might not be where I am today or have my two wonderful little brothers in my life.”

Besides bearing a strong physical resemblance to her mother, Jade hopes to also follow in her footsteps.

“I chose business because I know I will enjoy it, and there are a variety of jobs available to me,” Jade explained. “I would like to work for Ho-Chunk when I graduate or the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.”

Her mom knows she will succeed.

“Jade comes from a very long line of strong Winnebago women, and she is merely following in their footsteps while making some pretty big ones of her own. What some may view as obstacles, Jade has handled with gracious dignity and a profound desire to succeed.”

Like her mom, who was named Coach of the Year while leading the Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County women’s volleyball team, Jade enjoys playing volleyball and running around the track at the university’s rec center. And like most students her age, she likes listening to music and sleeping.

As she continues her education to become a role model for others with similar challenges, Jade’s main mission is to get her word out.

“College is an option for everyone, and if you really want to get an education, there are people and organizations out there that will help you follow your dream.”

This story was reprinted with permission from The Pender Times.