Nancy Symens HCWB Closeup IGC 2013

Archived Story

Renaissance woman

Published 10:36am Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Nancy Symens of Fergus Falls is a multi-talented musician, singer/songwriter, worship band leader, physical therapist, mentor, and avid motorcyclist. And that’s just naming a few of her areas of interest and expertise.

“The band I’m in is called ’32:seven’, based on Psalm 32:7… and we’re the house band at Hilltop Celebration Church in Fergus Falls,” said Nancy. “I serve as the Worship Music Leader for the church and band, singing and playing rhythm acoustic guitar along with a little electric guitar thrown in. We play Christian-based music. Our mix has been described as an eclectic style of contemporary lite rock with a blues and jazz flare. We’re all volunteers. Because we love what we do, we usually say ‘yes’ when invited to play somewhere. We play at community celebrations, church-related functions, retreats, conferences, coffee houses, and the occasional Tent Revival Meeting. We have been known to even break out the old time gospel music. At times, we can be quite spontaneous in our performing, with lots of impromptu solos.”

“We honor the Lord with our talents. Music is cross-generational/cross-cultural. It’s the universal language. It speaks. I feel that I’m part of a great team and there’s such great unity within our band. We’re like family.”

Speaking of family, Nancy and her husband Arlan have been blessed with nine godchildren and two “house daughters”. These young women, who they met at their church, have come to live with them during a transition in their life…anywhere from independence from home to college to job hunting and marriage. Their first “daughter” Ruth is the keyboard and violin player in “32:seven”. She is now married and teaches in Ashby, Minnesota. Their second “daughter” Tori is currently living with them and attending Minnesota State Fergus Falls. Nancy and Arlan have found providing a mentoring home environment to be a highly rewarding experience and plan to continue hosting house daughters. “It’s been such a neat blessing for all of us. It’s been just rich,” said Nancy.

It was also here in Fergus Falls that Nancy met her husband Arlan in the late 1990’s and married him in 1999. “A smiley, always happy farm boy” originally from Herman, Minnesota (but not one of THE “Herman Bachelors”, Nancy noted). They had noticed each other while attending Community Bible Church in Fergus Falls and found they shared a love of music. “Although he doesn’t want to perform publicly, I think he has a good voice. He says he ‘plays the radio really well’ when asked about his musical talents!” Nancy noted with a smile. “He’s always been very encouraging of my songwriting and other musical pursuits.”

The clincher that they were destined to roll through life together was their shared love of motorcycles. Arlan rides a Honda Goldwing and Nancy rides a 3-wheeled Spyder.

“That’s my R and R,” said Nancy. “We especially enjoy riding out to the Black Hills, up to the North Shore, and around our area, taking in the beauty of nature.” She comes by her love of motorcycling naturally. Her mom’s older brother had a Harley and was a member of the founding group of the Sturgis Rally. Her mom, Donna Rohwer, rode with her brother back in the 40’s and 50’s, and judging by the photo of her on the back of Nancy’s Spyder at age 81, she still enjoys rumbling down the road.

Growing up on a dairy farm outside of Dodge Center in southeastern Minnesota, Nancy loved being outside. She did get in on helping her mom and sister with the housekeeping, but it was in the outdoors that she was happiest, a true farm girl at heart.

Her responsibilities included the calf and horse chores, plus cleaning and prepping the pipeline milking system daily. She especially enjoyed trapping field gophers and driving baler during haying season. As her dad’s and brother’s tag-a-long helper, she became enamored of anything with wheels – learning to drive tractors, trucks, snowmobiles, go karts, dirt bikes…you name it, she probably knows how to drive it. And her love for motorized vehicles and the country life has continued into adulthood. Case in point:

“For two years in the early 90’s, I did something interesting and somewhat ‘not so ordinary’ for a woman at that time. I took vacation time from physical therapy in order to drive beet truck during sugar beet harvest, giving me the chance to drive truck and be ‘on the farm’. My co-pilot was my black lab, “Abby”, who always looked forward to seeing the gals at the weigh station because they had treats for her!” Nancy laughed.

“I drove a dual tandem truck that had a bench seat. So when I gave Abby, who was getting up in years by then, the signal to ‘get in’ she would start the process but then I’d have to boost her up from behind!” Smiling at the recollection of this time in her life, Nancy continued: “In a strange sense, it felt good to ‘get some field dirt and dust on me’ because it reminded me of growing up on the farm. It brought back great childhood memories, even though we didn’t grow sugar beets.”

That childhood included joining the local 4-H club in grade school, and every spring she and her beloved quarter horse, “Mitzy” would hone their pleasure and show riding skills for competitions. Due to their prowess and dedication, she and “Mitzy” won 4-H state horse show trips for six consecutive years. Nancy was also a Saddle Club Queen, riding Mitzy in area community parades.

Nancy’s musical education began with seven years of piano lessons starting in elementary school. “Mom thought all three of us kids should take them,” said Nancy. “To encourage me to practice after supper, Mom offered to do my dishwashing chores for me. I thought it was great that I was getting out of doing dishes, but Mom said it was actually a ‘win-win’ for her because she got the dishes done and got to enjoy listening to me play.”

Piano was soon followed by trumpet playing in the elementary school band, starting in the 5th grade. When she got to high school, she learned to play the guitar by taking lessons during the summer months. “I got my first guitar in high school. It was purchased with Gold Bond Stamps saved up by my Mom!” Nancy chuckled.

In addition to all her musical involvement during her formative years, Nancy was very athletic. She played basketball and volleyball all through high school and college.

For her Dodge Center High School graduation in 1975, she was asked to speak at her commencement. Being extremely shy, she didn’t feel she could give a speech, but she knew she could sing a song. So she and a classmate co-wrote the song she performed at graduation, “Take Time”. The song was a message to her classmates to “Take time to be you, take the time to experience life.”

After high school, she left for Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter, Minnesota to obtain her undergraduate degree. “It was a toss-up between a music major or athletic training major. I decided to go with a double teaching major in physical education and health education with an emphasis in athletic training.”

She briefly taught high school physical and health education and was the athletic trainer at St. Peter before going on to obtain her masters degree from Mankato State.

After completing her masters, she returned to Gustavus Adolphus where she worked in and taught sports medicine. “I really enjoyed that. It was very exciting because the athletes were very high energy, very focused. But it was challenging to reign them in so that they didn’t re-injure themselves.”

After working lots of long hours in sports medicine, she decided she needed a break from that realm. In 1985, she relocated to Portland, Oregon, going into retail management at the Clackamas Mall Lady Foot Locker store. “I enjoyed helping women find the correct shoes for their athletic activities. But after living in Portland for a year, I found I missed the sports scene, the four seasons, and wanted to be closer to family. In 1986, my sister spotted an ad in the newspaper for the new Sports Medicine Program at Lake Region Health Care in Fergus Falls.

So I applied, moved back to Minnesota, and for the most part, have been at Lake Region ever since.” She earned er PT bachelors degree at the University of Minnesota in 1990.

When asked to describe her 24 year experience working at Lake Region she had this to say: “Our physical therapy staff here at Lake Region is the best and the nursing staff are great. Everyone is on the same page. I love patient care, keeping a light hearted environment helps in a whole person healing. We’re coaches, and our hands are great healing tools. That human touch and encouraging words are so important. And when our patients come back to visit and say, ‘Look at me! I feel great!’ it’s the best, rejoicing with them.”

In all aspects of her life it’s obvious that Nancy truly exemplifies that “human touch”.

Editor’s Note: Nancy has produced a CD with her friend, Carol Jensen. “At Your Feet Worship” is a mellow, peaceful composition created by the two. It’s available for purchase from Nancy at her e-mail:


Editor's Picks

Report: Veering semi caused deadly Kvalvog car crash

DALTON (FNS) — A veering semi likely caused the June crash that killed two teenage Moorhead boys on their way to a basketball tournament, the ... Read more  | 1 comment

Snow falls on Fergus; more is expected

About 3 1/2 inches of snow fell overnight on Fergus Falls, gracing the land with a white blanket of fluff. And driveways. And sidewalks. And ... Read more  | 1 comment

Man arrested for alleged strangulation assaults

A 29-year-old Pelican Rapids man was arrested on Thanksgiving for reported violent acts of strangulation, assault and an attack with a weapon in Pelican Rapids, ... Read more