Paula grew up in a traditional farming community just north of Lansing, Michigan, and is the daughter of Paul Yensen, a Danish immigrant from Copenhagen. The elder Yensen served in the Merchant Marine during World War II, and was lucky to survive perilous convoy duty in the North Atlantic. After the war, Paul hauled raw milk to pasteurizing plants for local farmers. Paula's mother Retha was employed as a nurse at a local hospital, where Paula herself later worked as a dietary aide. After high school, she married and became a member of the AFSCME labor union when she began working in the bakery at Michigan State University.
As a young mother of two children, Paula enrolled in college to pursue studies in community service. Paula later earned a Ph.D. in Education, with minors in Urban Affairs and Family and Child Science, from Michigan State University. While a graduate student, she received the Women in State Government Scholarship, based on academic excellence and community service. Her graduate studies included in-depth research in affordable housing and employment issues, non-traditional learning, and urban planning issues. Her Ph.D. dissertation was focused on adult learning behavior at a shelter for battered women in Hamilton, Ohio.
Paula served on the Ingham County Women’s Commission and Fair Housing Board in Lansing, Michigan. She also founded the Michigan Economic Justice Task Force, and offered consumer advocacy testimony before the Michigan State Legislature. While active in Michigan politics, Paula was admired and respected by friends on both sides of the political aisle, including former Michigan first lady Helen Milliken, and Debbie Stabenow, now a U.S. Senator. She helped develop the rape evidence protocol now used in all Michigan hospital emergency rooms, and later endorsed by the Michigan State Police.
More recently, Paula was elected to two terms as a village trustee in Lake in the Hills, and became known for her hard work and effective leadership. She is currently the Executive Director of United Way of Central Kane County and a national operations volunteer for Girl Scouts.