Julie Elizabeth Poseley, one of the Fargo area's most highly respected mental health therapists, died Feb. 18, 2004. She was 52.
Julie, a licensed therapist and chemical addiction counselor, was a chemical health educator at Minnesota State University Moorhead at the time of her death. But she was well-known throughout the therapy community, having counseled clients at Southeast Human Services Center, The Counseling Center, and Rape and Abuse Crisis Center prior to joining MSUM in 1999. Her deep understanding of human nature, and her ability to help people in difficulty rose from challenges she overcame throughout her life.
Julie was born Jan. 24, 1952, in Fairmont, Minn. She was the middle of three daughters born to Elizabeth A. (Shepard) and James A. Poseley. The family moved widely in Minnesota and Wisconsin, sometimes trying to beat a creditor or an addiction, but often returned to Fargo for family ties. "I remember once leaving in the middle of the night," said Julie. "We couldn't take my dog. And the last thing I saw was his sad eyes from the window as we drove away."
Julie made a personal vow to keep dogs always close to her, at least one, perhaps two. She said that while you can't always count on people, "a dog will always be there for you.”
After moving through a number of parochial schools--she was beat up once in Milwaukee for being Irish among Italians--Julie graduated from Fargo South High School in 1970. She had been living on her own since 15, in a friend's house, after her father died in a construction accident, and her mother could no longer care for her. "I kept where I was living a secret, because I didn't want to be put in foster care." For money she worked at the Sveden House in Moorhead. She moved briefly to live with her mother and new husband, but "he drove me away with a shotgun." She moved in with her sister, Jude, then a student at MSUM. Her family's history of addictions showed up in her adolescent behavior, when drugs and alcohol were part of the rebellious sub-culture at the end of the Vietnam War era. The elder sister, seven years Julie's senior, said she tried to keep some tabs on Julie by making her play bridge with her at least an hour a night before going out. It was through the card game and her sister that she met her second husband, Ross Collins.
After graduating Julie decided to do what young people looking for adventure did in 1970--she hitchhiked to California with her high school friend Bonnie (Poehls) Haney. "For protection we took along a table knife. Fortunately we never had a problem." Julie also took a backpacking swing through Europe and drove to Mexico City in a packed Volkswagen. And she tried her hand at being a student at her sister's alma mater, MSUM. "I did okay in the fall, but spring semester I always skipped a lot." With a string of low grades she decided college wasn't for her.
Julie tried a variety of waitressing and bartending jobs during the 70s, often visiting her sister, now in Minneapolis. "I used to hitchhike barefoot to Minneapolis," she said. "I can't believe I did that."
She met Jarel "Chip" Voeller at a bar. They lived with his parents and relatives farming in Rugby, N.D., and Climax, Minn., marrying in 1979. Julie gave birth to Jenny in February, 1980, but the premature infant lived only a few minutes. It was to be Julie's only child. Several years later she was diagnosed with a benign ovarian cyst, and underwent a hysterectomy. She developed a close bond with Jude's only child, Alaric, and tried to establish a closer relationship with the children of her younger sister, Casey Helmstettler, Jamestown.
Chip and Julie were divorced June 1984. It was then that Julie made a dramatic change in her life by joining Alcoholics Anonymous. She was working as a ward clerk for MeritCare Hospital’s psychiatric unit. She decided perhaps college was for her after all, and that she could become an addiction counselor. As an older-than-average student, Julie was able to convince MSUM that she ought to be given a chance to purge her 1970s record. Relying on student loans, she returned to graduate with nearly straight A's, and went on to do the same as a master's student of the North Dakota State University addiction program. In 1989, M.Ed. in hand, Julie embarked on a new career and a new life.
"I never planned to get married again," she said. "I'd gone through enough therapy myself to know that you don't need a spouse to be complete." But in 1988 her sister invited her to be a fourth for a bridge date. Also invited that night was Ross, then a student at the University of Cambridge (Britain) visiting for the summer.
Julie loved nature, particularly the North Shore Drive. She'd camped there several times alone, taking as her best friend "Goldie," the beloved golden retriever that followed her everywhere. But she'd never tried a Boundary Waters canoe trip. Collins proposed one. She said she'd finally found her church, a renewal of her spirit, in the remote lakes and forest of Minnesota's wilderness. On June 25, 1994, she and Ross were married.
Julie worked at Southeast until 1991, then moved to the Counseling Center. In 1995 she joined Rape and Abuse Crisis Center, returned to the Counseling Center in 1997, then joining MSUM in 1999. She also maintained a private counseling practice.
The couple made a dozen more trips to the wilderness throughout the 1990s. They also traveled to Europe nearly every year. Julie's last overseas trip was to a place she'd always wanted to see, Venice, with her husband, her sister Jude, and an old family friend, Ron Matthies. She said she wanted to see the canals again and again. But in May 2003 Julie learned her sister's pancreatic cancer had returned, and that it was terminal. She planned to spend that summer in Minneapolis taking care of the sister who meant so much to her throughout her life. In early July, however, Julie began having trouble with her balance. She thought it was a reaction to an antidepressant medication. The diagnosis was terrifying: stage four lung cancer metastasized to the brain. Julie had long ago managed to overcome all her dangerous addictions except one, cigarettes. She finally quit smoking two years ago. But, as a doctor said, sometimes your number just comes up. She would not be able to take care of her sister after all during her last days.
Julie's radiation and chemo were successful enough that she was able to be in Minneapolis to participate in her sister's funeral in late October. But her hope of getting strong enough to visit Ron in Spain was shattered when she broke a hip, damaged by radiation treatment, over Christmas. She never recovered her strength.
Julie's enthusiasm for living things extended to the expansive gardens she built around her old house on Seventh Street. After years of apartment life, she finally could indulge. As a Master Gardener she also helped others grow better gardens. She served as president of F-M Horticulture Society, was named 2002 Regional Outstanding Advisor for her work with MSUM peer educators, and helped many on the road to recovery. Last summer among the shower of tears and cards left in Julie's hospital room was a poster. On the back was written an anonymous note: "These are the things I learned from Julie. Thank you." The poster read:
I have permission to be exactly who I am. I have the right to feel what I feel and to believe in the vision I see. It is okay to think what I think, to dream what I dream, to love everything I love.
Julie is survived by her husband, Ross Collins, a sister, Kathleen (Casey) Helmstettler, Jamestown, N.D., a nephew, Alaric Poseley-Hatton, Minneapolis, and her dog, Nutmeg.
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