Weekdays find long-time St. John resident Myia Powell on the job as the mental health nurse at Morris deCastro Clinic, but when she’s off work, Powell’s at home in her garden.
"The place is all abloom," she says.
She and her "significant other," retired Caneel Bay Resort executive sous chef Claude Williams, garden up a storm at their home outside Cruz Bay.
In addition to a profusion of flowers, they grow fruit trees such as pineapple, carambola, mangos, lime and papaya in their yard.
Powell always liked flowers and gardened even when she lived in New Jersey. Born in Albany, Ga., she grew up in the New Jersey city of Trenton.
She moved to St. John with her daughter, Lisa, in 1991 to live with Williams after the two had a long-distance relationship that began when Powell came to the territory on vacation in 1983.
Eventually her daughter moved back to the states, but one granddaughter, Tracy, now 11, lived with Powell from age 3 until she was 10. She currently lives in New Jersey with her father.
Powell also has two other granddaughters, Skyler, 15, and Morgyann, 13, who live in Greensboro, N.C., with their mother.
Never a fan of New Jersey’s cold weather, Powell embraced the island’s balmy weather and plant-growing possibilities when she moved to St. John.
Gardening isn’t the only creative outlet in her life. Powell also creates rag dolls that she’d like to manufacture. And she loves to cook.
While Williams was the one with the chef’s reputation, Powell began to shine in this arena when she cooked up southern food at the 2000 July 4th Celebration Food Fair, an endeavor she’s repeated nearly every year since then.
Powell made a reputation with her requisite Southern fried chicken, smothered chicken, shrimp gumbo, macaroni and cheese, collard greens with cornbread and sweet potato pie, but the peach cobbler confirms her star status as a Southern cook. In addition to memorable food, she’s a stickler for presentation. Powell says she used chafing dishes and lace tablecloths on her Food Fair table before anyone else thought to do so.
The 10th of 11 children, Powell says that since there were so many older children, she didn’t have to help with chores like cooking when she was young. She only learned to cook when she was out on her own.
Calling herself a jack of all trades, Powell also enjoys her job treating people others would ignore as the Health Department’s mental health nurse.
"They’re not crazy," she says. "They have mental health issues. You have to take the time to understand them."
She started her nursing career as a nurse’s aid at St. Francis Medical Center in Trenton. While working, two licensed practical nurses and a nun encouraged her to get her LPN degree. Off she went to the LPN program at Trenton Central High School, where she had graduated a few years before.
After working for about 10 months as an LPN, she decided to go back to Mercer County Community College to become a registered nurse while working nights as an LPN.
"I sort of climbed up the ladder," she says.
During the next two decades, she worked in numerous hospital departments, as an industrial nurse, as a psychiatric nurse working with criminally insane patients at Trenton State Hospital, and at Trenton State Prison.
Now nearing the end of her nursing career, she plans to retire in 2012.
"So I can devote more time to my rag dolls," she says.