Forty-five years ago, I met the person I knew I would marry.
Paula Bielefeld was born and raised in Paducah, KY. She was a proud alumni of Paducah Tilghman High School. As it turned out, her high school defeated my high school in the Class 2A State Championship game in Fall of 1973; I was on the field and she was watching from the stands. Three years later, our paths crossed again at Georgetown College. Paula and I were introduced through mutual friends at a dance just after school started. Within just a few months, I asked Paula out on a first date. From that moment on, I knew I had found the one person with whom I was meant to share a life’s journey. After several months of dating, I asked Paula’s father for his permission to marry her. We were engaged in the summer of 1977, and we were married on Jun 23, 1979.
Paula studied Biology at Georgetown. She received her Bachelor of Science in Biology, graduating magna cum laude in 1980. From there, we were off to serve our county as part of the United States Air Force. We had the opportunity to see parts of the country and the world that neither of us would have thought possible as kids growing up in Kentucky.
Paula willingly joined me as I began my Air Force career. While I was attending the USAF Weapon School, Paula received her bachelor of science in nursing at Eastern New Mexico University. She always demonstrated a caring spirit and becoming a nurse was the perfect profession for her. We were blessed in 1988 and again in 1989, when our daughters Jill and Paige came along. By this time, Paula was an OR Nurse at High Plains Hospital in Clovis, NM and she took a break from her nursing career to become a full-time mother for our daughters. She was a devoted mother; family was the most important thing to her.
Her devotion to family was something that came naturally. Her parents Paul and Jeanette Bielefeld, along with her brother, Gary Bielefeld, provided her with an atmosphere of love, caring, perspective, and opportunity. Throughout our travels and changes of station in the Air Force, Paula always kept her Kentucky family close to her heart. As the Kentucky family grew, so did Paula’s love for her family.
Our daughters have grown up to be everything a parent could hope for. Jill is married to Mark Wright, an officer in the Royal Air Force, and is a wonderful example to our granddaughters. Jill works as a manager in Niceville, helping veterans get the care they need and deserve. Paige is married to Jason Baker. Paige is an oncology nurse in Newnan, Georgia, and Jason is a pharmaceutical service team lead and also a new Lieutenant in the Georgia National Guard. They have made us both so proud.
Her beautiful granddaughters Kayla and Quinn were the lights in her lighthouse. Paula’s eyes lit up when she saw her girls. Kayla and Quinn have hearts of gold and they loved their “Bunny.” She loved being around them.
As for her Kentucky family, her niece, Molly, married Dr. Ben Johnson. They live in Paducah and are raising a beautiful legacy of their own. Her niece, Anne, is married to Dr. Andrew Schroeder of Louisville, KY and they have demonstrated the same loving atmosphere for their children that Paula had in her family. Paula’s niece, Katherine “Kat” Bielefeld, has always been able to make us laugh with her quick wit and “Bielefeld smile.”
Paula resumed her nursing career in the OR at the Emerald Coast Surgery Center and the Sacred Heart Medical Park Surgery Center until she retired in April 2017. To all of those that worked with Paula, she cherished the opportunity to work with such a dedicated team of professionals. I am sure she would like me to say, “Thank You.”
After an on-and-off battle with cancer that started in 2008, Paula’s final battle started again shortly after she retired. Though I could see the suffering she was going through, she rarely complained. In January 2021, her cancer started getting the upper hand, and on September 24th, she had finally had enough. I know she would like to thank the team at the Emerald Coast Cancer Center for locking arms with her throughout this battle— the Doctors, Nurses, and Techs at FWB Medical Center, as well as, the team of professionals at Emerald Coast Hospice as she completed her life’s journey.
Her time in hospice care at home presented to both of us an opportunity to reconnect with friends that Paula had made through her life. Though sometimes physically separated, the love and concern of childhood and lifetime friends made her final days very special and meaningful. It is my goal to keep those relationships alive for the years to come.
With tears in her eyes, Paula asked me a few days before she passed to make sure our grandchildren remembered her. I told her that as long as I am able to tell stories, I will tell them how selfless, kind, and thoughtful a person you were, and that is the greatest compliment anyone can ever receive. Paula, you have left a legacy. In lieu of flowers, find those that mean a lot to you
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