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The clock was ticking as Julie Nation, at the time a 27-year-old divorced mother of four, chose between two dramatically different career paths.

One led to Hollywood. It was 1971 and Nation had wielded the self-confidence and poise she'd gained at Santa Rosa's June Terry Finishing School to win several modeling jobs and small film parts.

Those successes emboldened her to audition for a substantial role in a movie to star Katharine Ross, a hot commodity following 1967's "The Graduate" and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" in 1969. Coincidentally, Nation and Ross had studied a few years apart at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Nation was offered the part. It's easy to imagine how tempted she was to accept it. The primary complication: "In those days," she said, "you had to move to L.A." to hope to make it in motion pictures.

And Santa Rosa was home not only to her children but to the parents she relied heavily upon, the late Norm and Louise Nation, then the owners of a flight service at the Sonoma County Airport.

"It just didn't feel right" to uproot her family and leave Santa Rosa for Hollywood, Nation decided. She shelved the acting dream and resolved to pursue another passion she'd discovered at the June Terry school: Teaching.

She enrolled in the school to learn to feel better about herself. And as her confidence grew, the owners asked her to speak at high schools about self-esteem, and they taught her how to teach.

It wasn't long after she declined the movie role that the school's owners made her a surprise offer. They were contemplating leave Sonoma County for another business opportunity, and they asked Nation if she'd like to buy the June Terry Finishing School.

"I said yes, not having any idea about business," she said. "I didn't even know what the word &‘overhead' meant."

The year was 1972 and she was 28. Her commitment to buy the school ignited an exciting but also terrifying chapter of her life.

To raise money for the purchase, she sold the little Santa Rosa house her folks had helped her buy. She moved herself and her kids into a rented Beaver Street Victorian — that promptly burned down because of an electrical problem.

"We barely escaped with our lives," Nation said. "We were literally in our pajamas, running down the street."

The family of five started over in another rental and the kids' mother applied herself to running and improving what she named the Julie Nation Academy. Forty years later, she's a trim and gracious six-time grandmother who remarried 11 years ago to Joe Bowman and is satisfied that she long ago made the right choice of careers.

"We have a lot of love here," Nation said at the school that's moved a number of times but for the past 16 year has occupied a suite at Waterfall Towers. She, a full-time director, two part-time secretaries and nine hourly faculty members currently teach about 60 students modeling, personal development — self-confidence, etiquette, personal appearance — and acting for commercials, TV and films.

Though she long ago let go of aspirations to become a professional actor, she said, "I live vicariously through my students." She's able to share with them the benefits of relationships she has built for four decades with all-important talent agents.

"She's very well connected," said academy alumna Sarah Withers, 16. The Santa Rosa High junior found a Los Angeles agent with Nation's help and now holds a Screen Actors Guild card. She has acted in several national commercials, including one for Verizon Wireless that aired during the Olympics.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the school, Nation is working on a pair of Nov. 3 events at the Friedman Center in Santa Rosa. An early afternoon model and talent showcase by academy students will be followed by a dinner and dance that will benefit Schools Plus.

At 68, Nation said she has no plans to leave the school but she does ponder taking another stab at acting. She knows enough about show business to believe a local theater company might one of these days have need for a graduate of the June Terry Finishing School.

(Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.)