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 Navy 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 was a co-founder of the Fair Housing Center 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 Republican former Michigan first lady Helen Milliken, and Democrat Debbie Stabenow, now a U.S. Senator. Her bi-partisan approach to politics continues to this day.
More recently, Paula was elected to two terms as a village trustee in Lake in the Hills and three terms on the McHenry County Board. She quickly became known for her hard work and effective leadership. She recently retired as Executive Director of United Way of Central Kane County and a national operational volunteer for Girl Scouts. She has also taught classes in fund raising, grant writing, board governance and leadership at Harper College.
Dr. Yensen's daughter Jamie will enter the ministry after completing her studies at Drew University in New Jersey. Her son Jason does marketing research for the automotive industry in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her husband Michael is a product manager for Quad/Graphics, the largest printing company in the Americas.