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Ashley Trower speaks to a reporter Tuesday at Mercy Hospital Ada. Trower, who works as the hospital’s manager of nutritional/environmental services, was recently honored with the Oklahoma Hospital Association’s Spirit of Resilience Award.

By Richard R. Barron/The Ada News

Failure is not an option for Ashley Trower, who overcame a difficult childhood to become an employee at Mercy Hospital Ada.

The hospital’s manager of nutritional and environmental services has known hard times during a life that took her from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to Palm Beach, Florida, and ultimately brought her to Ada. But she never lost hope.

The Oklahoma Hospital Association recently honored Trower’s never-give-up spirit with the Spirit of Resilience Award, given to hospital employees who recover quickly from a setback and refuse to let failure define them. She was one of 50 employees across the state to receive the award at the OHA’s recent convention.

Trower said she was surprised to learn that she had won the award.

“I still think they have the wrong person,” she said. “It’s not resilience; it’s doing what I do. You just get up and do it. There is no other option but to move and to keep going forward.”

‘Love and anger’

Trower was born to teenage parents, and she was adopted by her grandparents in Maryland when she was 18 months old. Her mother was not part of the picture, and her father — a drug addict who had spent time in prison — was in and out of her life.

“When he was part of my life, there was love and anger,” Trower said. “He had a lot of mental health issues, but he’s still my dad.”

Trower and her grandparents lived in Baltimore at first, but they later moved to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. While living there, Trower became pregnant and gave birth to her daughter.

Trower said she loved her grandparents, especially her grandmother. But they did not approve of her lifestyle, which led to tension between them.

That tension, combined with other problems, prompted Trower to leave her home — and her daughter — when she was 18.

“When I left, I literally got in a car and I drove until I hit water, which was the Florida Keys,” she said.

Trower later moved to the Palm Beach area, where she lived from 2003-2004. She supported herself with odd jobs and spare change and lived in boxes or hotel rooms — whatever she could afford.

Her Florida life ended when she came to Ada to pursue a romantic relationship with another woman, and she liked the town so much that she decided to stay. But she found that her spouse’s family was just as dysfunctional as the family she had left behind in Maryland.

Trower needed a job, so she went to work at the Solo Cup plant in Ada. She soon realized that factory work was not for her, so she took a job selling ads for the Pontotoc and Hughes County Shopper.

Trower enjoyed working for the shopper, but the publication closed its doors about eight months after she started. So she took a job at the IRT call center.

Her life with her spouse began to deteriorate, ending with a fight one night in their front yard. After her spouse punched her in the nose, Trower decided it was time to leave.

She walked from their house to the call center so she would arrive in time for her morning shift. She had built some strong relationships with her co-workers at IRT, and one of the co-workers and her husband let Trower stay with them.

“They took me in,” she said. “They fed me. I would help them with whatever finances, and it was good.”

But Trower didn’t want to be a burden to anyone, so she alternated between staying at her co-worker’s house and staying with another friend in Ada.

Working at Mercy

Trower was still working at the call center when a friend who managed the food service department at Mercy Hospital Ada told her about an opening there. Trower got the job and went to work at Mercy in June 2007.

“I decided to work here (at Mercy) full time and still stay part time with IRT, because I’m trying to make a living,” she said. “I was trying to save money at this point in time, not to mention I had child support. … So I was trying to get myself out of the hole, and I did.”

Trower rented a trailer for $250 a month at Sleepy Hollow Trailer Park and worked as much as possible. Eventually, she saved enough money to buy a car.

Later, she moved into an apartment at the Oakhurst Apartments complex and quit her job at IRT but remained at Mercy. She paid off her debts, bought a house and married another woman.

About eight years after she started working at Mercy, Trower was laid off from her food service job. But she caught a break three days later, when the hospital made her its nursing staff coordinator.

While she was working for the nursing department, Trower decided to pursue a long-held dream and train to become a police officer. She juggled her hospital job with twice-weekly trips to Oklahoma City, where she attended the police academy for eight months before earning her officer’s license.

She used to work part time for the Stonewall Police Department but is not currently employed as a police officer, although she still has her license.

Trower spent nearly two years in Mercy’s nursing department, but she couldn’t say ‘No” when the hospital’s human resources department approached her about taking over as the manager of nutritional and environmental services.

She said leaving the nursing department was the hardest decision she ever made, but she accepted the offer because she wanted to help the people who work in nutrition and environmental services.“I want them to have a voice,” she said. “They mean something. They are valuable. Without food and without cleanliness, there’s nothing.”

Trower said she started her new job in April, and she loves it. And now, she is looking for her next goal.

Lessons learned

Today, Trower has everything she wanted — a good job, a strong second marriage, a nice house and a car. She has a son who lives with her and a relationship with her daughter, who is still living with Trower’s grandparents in Maryland.

Looking back over her life, Trower said she has learned to appreciate small blessings, such as good weather or a slice of pizza.

“It doesn’t matter how low I was,” she said. “I always still had something. There was a smile. There was sunshine. Whatever it was, I made it what it was.”

Eric Swanson can be contacted by email at eswanson@theadanews.com.

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Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.