After a 39-year career of tackling problems and breaking down barriers, Jo Ann Hoag, CEO of Lake View Hospital in Two Harbors, has retired.

Last Friday, a collection of purple bouquets sat on the table in her office -- flowers in her favorite color as a farewell gift from a staff she has known just two years but with whom she has already forged a strong connection.

“Everybody there that worked with her in that period of time has nothing but great things to say,” said Kevin Beardsley, chair of the Lake View Hospital board.

Hoag’s health care career began in 1975 after she graduated from St. Luke’s nursing school and was hired as a staff nurse at the hospital in Duluth. It was always an obvious choice to go into nursing, she said.

“Ever since I was a little girl, people would ask me what I wanted to do and I would say, ‘Be a nurse,’” she said.

Since then, she’s held a number of different jobs within the St. Luke’s system, from head nurse to vice president of regional development. In 2012, she took over as the interim CEO at Lake View and was officially named to the position in 2013.

“There were so many different and varied experiences available to me within St. Luke’s that I never got restless. I was never bored,” Hoag said.

A number of impressive achievements dot her history in the hospital system. She had a hand in expanding the downtown Duluth emergency room entrance from an inconvenient one-lane drop-off to a three-lane system, greatly improving efficiency. She helped start HealthShare, a program that lasted about five years and offered a coverage model to help low-income people who were falling through the cracks of the health care system.

Last year, she won an award for her work on the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program that she helped create in Duluth and that will expand to Lake County next year.

“We just want to make a very difficult time as supportive and nonthreatening as it can be,” she said of the program.

She worked with PAVSA, a nonprofit rape crisis center in Duluth, and a number of other community players to build a model that lends support to sexual assault victims at Duluth hospitals. The program has many components, but a main tenet is training nurses that stay with victims during their entire hospital visit and will support them if they choose to press charges.

Candy Harshner, the executive director at PAVSA, said Hoag’s input and help was vital to creating the program.

“She’s probably a best problem-solver I’ve ever met in my life,” she said.

As Hoag tells it, she has just accepted new projects and opportunities throughout her career and tried to leave them better than she found them.

“I said ‘no’ appropriately, to a few things,” she said. “But for the most part, if I can get it done and it sounds interesting to me, why wouldn’t I do it?”

That willingness to say yes has led to positions on countless community boards and unexpected career changes, like when a St. Luke’s administrator asked her to help with the health care the hospital was providing at a prison camp, leading to a three-year stint supervising at the camp.

“I’ve been lucky to be part of a really bunch of innovative programs or new adventures throughout my entire career,” she said. “It wasn’t ever anything I sought. It was just, ‘Oh, this sounds interesting, I think I’ll do that.’”

She ended her career on a barrier-breaking high note as Lake View’s CEO. Though health care is a female-dominated field, according to RockHealth, only 18 percent of hospital CEOs are women. Hoag said she sometimes notices the lack of women around her, but hasn’t found it a roadblock.

“There are times when I look around a room when I’m on a board or in business community meetings and I think, ‘Oh, there are just a few of us in here,’” she said. “I was in a family with two brothers, so it never occurred to me that I couldn’t do anything I wanted to do.”

Her advice to young women hoping to make it to the big leagues in their career? Focus on the job you have now, and do it well.

“I think you have to invest in the role that you’re in at the time and always try to learn and make a difference in the job you have,” she said. “The more you are flexible and adaptable in your mindset and that when you do things you do them to the best of your ability ... I think you’ll get rewarded in that regard.”

Hoag’s reward after a long career will be more quiet days at her lakeside home with her husband, who retired on the same day she did. Her long-term career hints at a quality of loyalty also evidenced in her relationship -- she and her husband have been together since they were 14 years old. They will remain involved in the community -- they have a stake in Lake Superior Brewing Company and Hoag is still the chair of the Kitchi Gammi Club in Duluth.

Back in Two Harbors, Greg Ruberg will take over as administrator now that Hoag is gone. She said knowing the hospital is in good hands made saying goodbye a little easier.

“He is just a dynamic, young leader,” she said. “It’s a fabulous facility with committed people that work here.”