Whatever opportunities have come Colleen Rambo’s way, she has always tried to take them on at full force.
When she graduated high school after growing up in Florida, she went into the military. After retiring from the armed forces, she decided to try out pharmacy school in her 30s, where she worked full-time until just a few years ago.
Instead of going quietly into the night of retirement, Rambo – a Guthrie resident – joined up as a first responder along with becoming an English teacher to Chinese students through an online program called VIPKID.
Quite a resume for a woman who had no expectations of being a teacher just a few years ago. It’s a busy day, one that involves waking up early at 2 a.m. to start teaching her classes – which are all booked, by the way.
With last Monday being First Responders Day, Rambo reflected back on a highly productive career which she has no intent of slowing down.
“I am a pharmacist by training, but as part of that, I became a Red Cross instructor and became an advanced disaster life support instructor and in Stop the Bleed,” Rambo said. “I got involved with a 501(c)3 responding to disasters and the disasters have been picking up so I have been employed most of this year. It is not a career choice for me, I volunteer my time.”
Rambo’s time might be a commodity that she uses quickly, but she loves everything she does. Plus, it doesn’t seem as overwhelming to her because of her military experience.
She took a liking to Oklahoma during her time in the military, as she was stationed at Fort Sill near Lawton. A helicopter crew chief in the United States Army, Rambo got to go many places, including Germany during the 1980s.
“We still had a lot of tension between us and Russia so we did a lot of training in prepping for the Cold War,” Rambo said. “The military was really good for me. It gave me discipline and a sense of purpose in serving.”
After she got married, Rambo decided to leave the military to start a family.
“I went to pharmacy school in my 30s because I went next door to where we were living and there were older women working at a bread store just scraping by and I thought, ‘Well, if something happens to my husband, then I thought I wouldn’t be able to take care of my kids.’ So I went back to school.”
Despite going at an older age than most other students, Rambo loved it.
“For me, it was much easier because I went into the military first and gained some discipline and focus,” Rambo said. “I am glad that I waited to go to school because I wouldn’t have done as well if I went right out of high school.”
For years, she worked as a retail pharmacist including stops at both Walgreens and CVS in her time. After decades of toiling behind a counter, Rambo needed something to fill her time when she was presented the opportunity to be a first responder, as well as the opening at VIPKID.
“A friend of mine told me about the platform and I started very small with it, but it has grown,” Rambo said.
The age range for the kids Rambo teaches is from as young as 3-year-olds all the way up to 14. There are different levels with some classes being 25 minutes and others being 50.
For Rambo, the classes are all in English so it isn’t as much she had to pick up, but the teaching aspect took some time for a career pharmacist.
“I am not an English teacher by training, I am a math and science pharmacist, so some of the English language roles I had to pick up very quickly,” Rambo said. “Technology is really good. We have a picture of the student and a video of the teacher and then there is a slide presentation for the classes. It is a bit of a technology learning curve at first, but it is intuitive so it is pretty easy to pick up.”
A good thing for Rambo, who has to split up time – she is also a volunteer diver at the Oklahoma Aquarium in Jenks – is that VIPKID is based on the instructor’s availability.
A few weeks ago, she was out of the country, but when she came back to start teaching, her classes were packed and awaiting her instruction.
“I was so excited to be back. I have some close relationships with a lot of my regulars,” Rambo said. “The Chinese families make you a part of their families. I am pretty excited to see them every day. A lot of them call me grandma. I really like that. I am excited every day to see them.”
As a first responder, Rambo emphasizes volunteering as much time as one can. She works with Team Rubicon Disaster Response and has gone all over the country to help rebuild communities until they are resilient again.
“It has made a huge impact on my life. I keep in contact with somebody from each area I have been in,” Rambo said. “These people are devastated and have lost everything. To be able to help them and giving them hope that they can move forward is extremely rewarding.”
It doesn’t have to be wide-scale like Rambo does, either, she said. Volunteering can start at the local level because every little bit helps whenever disaster strikes.
“There is such a shortage, especially in the volunteer fire departments and in people to just help,” Rambo said. “FEMA never even came to the small towns we were taking care of. I think that volunteering and taking care of one another as a nation is extremely important.”
She doesn’t know what her future holds for her since so many opportunities have come, but Rambo loves the path her life has taken and hopes many others can take the risks she has.
“I don’t know. I have learned that God is going to provide opportunities to do amazing things,” Rambo said. “When something comes my way, I try to settle in.”