When Linda Krueger starts to tear up, it’s not when talking about how proud she is of her son or her military service, or the death of her father. It’s when she talks about how much she loves her residents.

“If you truly have a heart for it, you’re not happy doing anything else,” she says of skilled nursing. When she graduated from nursing school and took a job in a skilled nursing center, she describes realizing “this is what I should have been doing all along.”

But the path to being the treasurer for the American Association of Directors of Nursing Services (AADNS) and Clinical Reimbursement Director at Community Eldercare Services (CES) in Mississippi was circuitous. Krueger, 61, grew up in Monroe, WI, the daughter of a cheese factory worker father and a mother who served as an aide at a nursing home. Her mother, who still lives in Monroe, married at 17 without a high school diploma but later returned to complete her GED and go to nursing school. 

Krueger always thought she’d follow in her mother’s footsteps as a nurse, but instead she went into the Navy at age 17 in 1974, only to be discharged for a bad kidney. After two early marriages and a stint working in a cheese factory, she remarried and the family moved to Tennessee. 

For years, Krueger worked at a General Motors plant on the midnight shift and completed day classes for her nursing degree. After a divorce, as a young single mother, she taught her son, Christopher, how to do laundry and cook, and worked to send him to college. He now works in global security at Aetna, in addition to completing a master’s degree in divinity in 2015.

“It was just him and me. He’s a good kid,” she says fondly. “He never gave me a bit of trouble.” 

Chris Krueger describes his mother as “the rock in my life.

“I am where I am today because of her working hard and sacrificing,” he says. “She’s the one person apart from my Lord and Savior whose approval I seek.”

Now a nurse for 23 years, Krueger loves her work both with professional development and at CES, highlighting the way it supports residents’ interests.

“The focus of our company is what can connect you to your life,” she says. “All this person-centered care stuff is great; I think they need to take it further.” 

In addition to being friendly and approachable, Krueger is dedicated to seeing others thrive, says CES Regional MDS Consultant Teresa Heathcott, RN, RAC-CT.

“I couldn’t ask for a better boss,” Heathcott says. “She’s always concerned about teaching and training to make sure we can do our jobs. What she’s been through, she’s brought herself up, and she has a compassion and drive to see everyone succeed.” 

Krueger, who also is a founding board member of the AANAC Educational Foundation, “calls a spade a spade,” says Diane Carter, RN, MSN, FAAN,  AADNS President and CEO.  “It’s very refreshing. She brings a lot to the table and is fun to work with.”

Although her life is occupied with work, Krueger enjoys old country music, such as Merle Haggard and George Jones, reading magazines and heading outdoors. She also kept and rode horses for many years, until she was forced to stop after “too many wrecks.” But it led her to meet Frank Smith, who needed a place to board his horse. After eight years of being friends, they began dating and married on Sept. 10, 2011. 

“It’s wonderful when you marry your best friend,” she says. “I knew he would never try to change me. I am what I am. He’s the first man who wasn’t jealous of what I did. He would never try to hold me back.”

Now, the two enjoy living in a house on the Tennessee River. Despite the arrival in the fall of great-grandchildren, Krueger shows no sign of slowing down.

Skilled nursing means too much to her, she says. 

“I feel that that’s my identity.”