Christine Menager

Born in France, Christine Menager had a chaotic childhood. Her mom died when she was 2 and her father, a rural veterinarian, sent his two kids to his parents’ farm in Normandy. “I was a high school dropout, a pregnant teenager,” says Menager, who got married at 17 and had two kids before she divorced her abusive husband. “He had a lawyer and got the children.” She went to nursing school in Paris, worked at a psychiatric hospital, and began to study psychology, then ran off to Berkeley with a guy she met in Greece. “I learned English for a year,” she reports, “and I aced the state nursing exam.” She worked evenings at a psychiatric hospital while earning degrees in social welfare at UC-Berkeley and mental health nursing at UC-San Francisco. “I didn’t want to grow old in Berkeley,” says Menager, who moved to rural Lane County in 1994. She was hired as a psychiatric nurse practitioner at South Lane Mental Health, a fledgling nonprofit in Cottage Grove, just as the state was closing mental hospitals. “It’s a lot cheaper to provide care in the community,” she notes. “They needed someone who could prescribe medications.” After 19 years, SLMH has grown to serve 1,200 clients in South Lane County. “It’s not just about meds,” says Menager, who will retire in March. “It’s been my life’s work to understand the context of people’s lives and help them access the services they need.”