Dannie Mae McKibbins -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Dannie Mae McKibbins


Dannie Mae McKibbins’ home in St. Paul will be renovated as part of the A Brush with Kindness program during the 2010 Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. The Carters will be among the volunteers who work to repair her house.

©Habitat for Humanity International/Ezra Millstein


A presidential connection

Before Jimmy Carter became president, he made a speech in Minneapolis to students in the University of Minnesota’s nursing program. Before he took the stage, somebody told Carter there was a young woman in the crowd from his home state who was the first African-American to enroll in the school’s nursing program.

Near the end of his speech, Carter extended a surprise invitation: “Dannie, my girl from Georgia, come on up here with me.”

This October, Dannie Mae McKibbins will have the chance to visit with Carter once again. The former president and his wife, Rosalynn, will spend a day helping to repair McKibbins’ house in St. Paul.

The Carters’ personal involvement will highlight Habitat’s A Brush with Kindness program, which serves low-income homeowners who struggle to maintain the exterior of their homes.

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity will lead volunteers in repairing 12 homes through the A Brush with Kindness program during the Carter Work Project. Fourteen more homes will be built or rehabbed to provide new homeownership opportunities for other families in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

In her St. Paul neighborhood, McKibbins hopes she can reverse the invitation this time. “I’m hoping I can invite Mr. Carter to have coffee with me in the house while he’s here,” she said. “I might make a Georgia cake, too, with coconut and pineapples. I make everything from scratch, even the old-fashioned icing.”

McKibbins was born and raised in Atlanta. Her father was a pastor for 47 years and also taught theology and math at Morehouse College.

“Oh, he was a good teacher,” McKibbins remembered. “He’d always tell me at night, ‘you going to get that problem before you go to bed!’”

It’s part of what inspired her to learn, and though she grew up amid Southern segregation, she had no shortage of relatives to learn from. McKibbins remembers watching her three aunts, who were also nurses. Her grandfather was a horse-and-buggy doctor in the nearby town of Mableton.

“I wanted to be a surgical nurse ever since I was a little girl, when I had my tonsils taken out at Grady Hospital in Atlanta,” she said.

McKibbins later received her clinical training at Grady Hospital when it remained segregated. After moving to Minnesota, she would eventually earn her nursing degree from the University of Minnesota.

A long career as a surgical nurse at Hennepin County Medical Center followed. “It feels like I helped train every doctor in this state,” she said with pride.

McKibbins has remained in close contact with the staff at Hennepin since she retired, and she frequently attends events hosted there. That support has meant a lot in recent years. She has lived in her current house for about six years. The home is where her husband, A.B. Tyuse, wanted them to move after living in Minneapolis for a long time. He died from prostate cancer shortly after they moved there.

“I’ve learned to like it here because this is what my husband wanted,” McKibbins said. “But it’s been tough without him.”

Their household was always much louder when they were younger. Though the couple had only one son, they served as foster parents for many years, taking in children from all over.

Since her husband’s death, those connections—and her neighbors’ support—have helped McKibbins. Now she is excited about Habitat’s presence in the community.

“I just like the idea that it’s going to be beautiful again,” she said when asked about her house.

“There are doors open now that we thought there never would be open for blacks. So I’ve had a nice life,” McKibbins said, and then laughed. “But have asked the Lord in my prayers for 10 more years. Then I’ll be ready to go.”