Natasha Madsen has worn many hats
throughout her 79-year life journey
MANTI—Manti’s Natasha Madsen has worn more hats in her life than most people care to count.
Since the early 1940’s, Madsen has been a medical assistant and nurse for her father and for the late Dr. Von S. Pratt; a “perpetual learner;” a high school counselor; a city council member; a mayor; a mother and a wife to a man with a livestock business; and a bicyclist who has peddled around France and Italy.
Now 79, when she hears about major projects or tasks, Madsen says, “Let the young people do it.” All except cycling trips, that is.
Madsen has lived in her Manti home for nearly 50 years. When asked where she spend most of her time when she’s at home, she points to a cushy, brown chair surrounded by watercolors painted by local artists, green plants and an overflowing bookshelf.
When she was younger, Madsen said she thought about moving to a metropolitan area but learned you don’t need to move to access the city. “You can just hop in the car.”
Another thing that kept her in Sanpete County, she said, was her husband’s livestock business. “There’s nothing that ties you down like agriculture,”
Looking through photos, Madsen pulls out shots of her time as mayor of Manti; a picture with a group of cyclists in an Italian village; one as a counselor at Manti High School giving a presentation on the consequences of shoplifting; and of one of the biggest influence in her life, her father.
Dr. Stanford Rees founded the Gunnison Valley Hospital in 1940 shortly before leaving to serve as a transport surgeon in World War II. Until Madsen was 10, the Rees family lived on the ground floor of the hospital.
Madsen recalls roaming through the old hospital at night with her friends and pulling each other up to the second floor via the dumbwaiter. “Must have been a strong dumbwaiter,” she laughs. Later, the family moved into the two-story stucco building next-door.
After the war, when Dr. Rees returned to the hospital, Madsen went to work as his medical assistant. Medical work, she said, is just something that runs in the family.
“He needed help. So, I just went to work and helped him,” she said. Her father saw up to 60 patients per day. “It wasn’t like you had three other nurses. You were it. So, you just worked.”
Madsen worked for her father for nearly 15 years before he retired and she transferred to Dr. Pratt’s service. Her work ethic and attention to detail, she said, comes from watching her father practice medicine.
She remembers a patient coming in who was drunk and who had lacerated the tendons on his hand. “Tendons are like elastic so when they are cut, they rescind,” Madsen said. “He [her father] kind of got after the guy. I guess the guy had fallen asleep after he had cut his hand.”
Madsen’s father went into the operating room to find and reattach each individual tendon, rather than simply sewing up the wound. When the man recovered, Madsen said he was able to fully open and close his hand.
“He was meticulous,” she said of her father. “He cared about the patients and never did anything for money. If someone was having hard times, he would put the money back in their hands.”
Madsen carried that view into her own life. In the early 90s, after getting her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology from Utah State University, she took a job as a counselor at Manti High School. He starting pay was $6.93 per hour, two-thirds less than she had made working for Dr. Pratt.
“I could have stayed and worked in the same job I had been doing for 20-plus years or I could move in a different direction,” she said. “But you have to take steps toward where you want to go and where you want to be a few years down the road.”
That, basically, is what Madsen taught to the students at Manti High School when she became a full-time counselor one year later. Madsen implemented a “comprehensive guidance” program that encouraged kids to “investigate and experiment,” to find classes they did, and did not, enjoy.
She also guided students toward affordable college education. “We live in a pretty poor area here, and a lot of kids are going to apply for federal financial aid,” she said. “It just breaks my heart when I see kids graduate from college and they say they’ve got $60,000 in debt. It’s not necessary.”
Her favorite part of her job, she said, was when she saw “kids achieving what they want(ed) to achieve,” such as one student she remembered who was the regional Sterling Scholar in general scholarship and then received a scholarship to Brigham Young University.
Several years before becoming a high school counselor, Madsen, at the urging of her husband, Gary Madsen, launched out on her career in public service by becoming the second woman to ever run for the Manti City Council.
Then, shortly after filing, and at age 44, Madsen discovered she was pregnant. “Good grief,” Madsen laughed when asked about her reaction to her late-in-life pregnancy.
At the time, Madsen was still working full-time for Dr. Pratt. “I remember not knowing how I could continue to serve on the city council, hold down a full-time job and take care of this darling baby.”
The baby daughter, Nina, came more than 20 years after Madsen’s sons, Curtis, now 56, and Kim, now 59. Because Nina was due during lambing season, Gary needed to tend to the family’s sheep from sunrise to past sunset. But he promised Madsen to be home every night she had a city council meeting.
“He [Gary] was so far ahead of his time,” Madsen said. “He said, ‘Look, you’ll quit working for Dr. Pratt before you quit working for the city council because, if you do, any time a woman runs for council, they’ll just say she will just get pregnant and quit.”
Madsen remembers coming home in the winter to Gary and Nina making sourdough biscuits. Nina put her portion of dough in a small pail she carried around. Flour covered Gary’s and Nina’s clothes and the kitchen countertops.
“They would go to the neighbors and take hot sourdough biscuits,” Madsen said. “After he [Gary] died, the neighbors would tell me they lost 10 pounds because there is nothing quite as tasty as hot sourdough biscuits with butter and honey on them. He was always a better mother than me. He was so nurturing.”
Madsen’s career change to counseling ended up being a benefit when Gary died of a heart attack at 60. Rather than working with patients as a nurse until past 7 p.m., she could be with Nina, a middle school student, shortly after school was out each day.
In 1995, while still working at Manti High, Madsen and her brother took a cycling trip around France. A year after she retired in 2004, she went with a group called “Backroads” on a biking trip around Italy.
Shortly after the trip, Madsen made another deep dive into public service. She was elected mayor of Manti and ended up serving two terms, from 2006 to 2014.
“There were just a couple of things that were bothering me,” She said. “And, I really wanted Manti to get a swimming pool.”
Bill Mickelson, who was city administrator during Madsen’s time as mayor, describes her as an official who knew what she wanted to accomplish, did her homework and followed up meticulously on projects.
“She interviewed each employee once a year,” Mickelson said. “It was always a two-way conversation. She genuinely cared about communication and each employee.”
But now, Madsen is ready to retired for good, which is why she declared, “Let the young people do it.”
“I really just want to ride my bike and go play with my kids, now,” she said, referring to her three children and six grandchildren. When she is not cycling around Sanpete County and St. George, Madsen can be seen on a daily walk through Manti.