Bradenton woman follows her late dad's message to the letter — and earns her diploma 18 years later.
Heritage Harbour’s Julie Hess might be taking the educational road less traveled, but 18 years after dropping out of high school — and now in the process of raising four children — she’s on her way to becoming a nurse.
Hess, now 36, was 17 years old and a junior at Bayshore High School when her father, Mark Hollar, died in a car crash in Bradenton a day before his 42nd birthday.
In the trunk of his insurance company car, his coworkers found two letters — one titled “Be Somebody,” and another intended for his funeral. It was titled, “Party Speech.” He likely had written them just before flying on a business trip to Chicago the month before.
“He was terrified of flying,” Hess said.
She has copies of the letters framed beneath her father’s picture in the family living room, where they’ve hung for years.
But it was in September 2017 while dusting, she paused to read them again. She said it felt like the first time.
“I loved you each and all, but death is a time to pull out your inner thoughts. Be strong! I expect each child to go to get a second education after high school — college or technical school/ be somebody! Love your future families, be of strong character, be moral, obey the laws of the land and of God! Live life to its fullest. Have fun, be happy, be positive and the world will be yours.”
“I could literally hear him,” Hess said. “I lost his voice for so long, but I could hear it for the first time in years. I was sobbing.”
Three days later, she enrolled in Manatee Technical College’s general equivalency diploma preparation program, and after 45 days, she completed the program and passed the test.
On June 26,18 years after dropping out of high school, she received her GED (MTC has only one GED graduation ceremony each year).
She still keeps in touch with her teacher, Marcia Willingham-Wines, who said Hess was a model student.
“She was there every day and she was always on time,” Willingham-Wines said. “She possessed a confidence that’s not normal. She was a natural leader.”
Now, Hess will continue her educational pursuits.
“I have a three-year plan,” Hess said. “I’ve always wanted to be a nurse. My goal is to be a (neonatal intensive care unit) nurse at All Children’s Hospital.”
She attended orientation July 5-6 for a program this summer to become a certified nursing assistant and learned July 9 she will be one of 15 students in MTC’s medical assisting program starting in August.
After that, she will pursue other classes to ultimately become a registered nurse.
Hess said she has loved staying home with her four children — Haleigh, 15; Ashton, 10; Troy II, 7; and Shylah, 6 — and feels she has been their personal nurses over the years, particularly to Shylah, who has cerebral palsy. However, now that they are all in school, “you can only clean your house so many times,” she said with a laugh.
She knows her dad would be proud.
“I took the long road,” Hess said. “At the end of the day, I did it, so he would be proud of me.”