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Monday, July 05, 2004

DallasNews.com | Immigrant reborn on the 4th of July

DallasNews.com | News for Dallas, Texas | Local News Columnist James Ragland
Immigrant reborn on the 4th of July

09:24 PM CDT on Sunday, July 4, 2004
By JAMES RAGLAND / The Dallas Morning News
On July 4, 1974, as our nation celebrated its freedom and independence, Ania Rust was given something she'd coveted since she was a child – U.S. citizenship.

Three decades later, the little girl who grew up dirt-poor on a farm in Poland is living the American dream: She's educated. She's rich. She's raised two kids.

And just as she promised immigration officials when she fell to her knees and tearfully begged them to let her stay in this country, Ania is finding ways to give back to the nation that stirred her childhood imagination.

Her success alone, as a registered nurse and private health-care provider, is inspiring. But her gracious attitude and humility are worth saluting.

"I want to thank America for all the wonderful things it has to offer," said Ania, whose name is pronounced Ahn-yah. "It's amazing the difference a country like this can make in a person's life. And the difference one person can make in a country like this."

Her patriotism is rivaled only by her perseverance. And let me tell you, she's got plenty of both.

When she was born, her mother lost a lot of blood because no one was at home to help her through the pregnancy. "For two years," she said, "I was slow to develop. They did not expect me to live. But I thrived on mother's love."

In grade school, she started learning about a strange and exotic land called America, and she knew right away she wanted to come here. "They tried to teach us Russian," she said. "I refused to learn Russian because I said I wanted to learn American language."

Her father had other plans. While the rest of her siblings were allowed to finish school, she said, Ania was told that her future was set. She's one of 10 children, but only seven are alive, including a sister who now lives in Garland.

"My father said I was such a good worker and I was going to stay on the farm, and he was going to give me the farm," Ania said. "I was very unhappy with his decision."

She only completed the sixth grade. "I was working in the fields from sunup to sundown. It was so hard. We were very, very poor."

And she kept dreaming of America. "I said, 'Mama, I'm going to America. I've got to search for a better life,' " Ania said. After she turned 16, "I continued to dream of America. And my mother said, 'You can be what you want to be, go where you want to go.' "

Her mom helped her write a letter to Ania's grandfather, who was living alone in Florida, asking if Ania could come stay with him. "And he said yes!"

She arrived in 1967. She was 18, spoke no English and had no other family around except her granddad. "He was 89 when I came here," she said. Less than two years later, he had a stroke and died.

Her six-month visa had been extended a year because she had started taking classes to become a nurse and she was taking care of her grandfather at the time.

But when she sought a permanent visa, she was told no. The immigration official "kept shaking his head," saying he couldn't let her stay, she said. "And I went on my hands and knees, and I begged. I told him that I would work hard and be a productive citizen, and that I wouldn't take jobs from Americans. And I looked up and I could see that he had tears in his eyes. And he said, 'OK, you stay.' "

That was in late 1968.

She worked hard, learned to speak English better and earned her vocational degree in 1969. Five years later, she became a citizen. In 1975, she earned her bachelor's degree in nursing and got married. She got a master's degree in administration in 1979.

A day after her second child, Kevin, was born in the summer of 1980, the family moved to North Texas. Other than her 1994 divorce, her life has been rosy. Both kids – Kevin, 23, and Angela, 27 – are college-educated.

And Ania just kept plugging away, earning degrees in gerontology and hospital administration in 1988. In 1991, she started her own health-care business, which at its height employed 80 workers and had nearly 200 clients. Three years later, she sold it for a very handsome sum.

Then she focused on a new business, Loving Care Homes, a residential facility at which she takes care of up to eight senior citizens in Collin County. She's been recognized for her business savvy and for her community service. And she's given scholarships to needy students.

Now 55, she's busy working on a cookbook that she plans to publish in the fall, and sales proceeds will go to set up a scholarship fund.

She's come a long way.

"When I was growing up, in some of the European countries they were saying you don't have to work hard in America. They say there are dollars hanging on trees. And I come here and I look for those trees, and there were no trees like that," she said. "I realized what they were saying was that, in America, it's easier to make a dollar."

America has been good to her, and each July Fourth holiday reminds her of that.

"For me, it's the best day of the year. It symbolizes [the day] I became a U.S. citizen," she said. "It's better than Christmas, better than my birthday."

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