Ohio’s Marcy Kaptur first ran for Congress in the early 1980s. Nearly 40 years later, the 71-year-old Democrat still holding down her job on Capitol Hill — and making history. On March 18, Kaptur celebrated 35 years, two months and 15 days in office, making her the longest-serving woman in the history of the House. And, according to Kaptur, there’s one thing she’s come to realize during the course of her precedent-setting career.

“The reasons that I ran, to change certain practices and policies, [I thought] could be done much more quickly,” Kaptur toldNPR.

The idea that passionate individuals can’t simply storm into office and make a dramatic political change on a dime is something that Kaptur says she’s learned the hard way.

“You get here and it’s like you run into this big marshmallow, this mammoth marshmallow,” she explained. “And it kind of absorbs you, and it’s so hard to work your way through in order to get passage to do something different for the country.”

And so, Kaptur has stayed the course and effected change over time. In 1987, she wrote a bill that would lead to the creation of a World War II monument in Washington DC. It took six years for the bill to pass, and the monument wasn’t officially opened until 2004 — a full 17 years after she’d initially introduced it.

Kaptur sees her slow victory as a reminder that real change takes time, and she’s urging all of us to remember that in today’s political climate.

Kaptur’s patience in politics may also have sprung from her attempts to serve her country in multiple ways even before the people of Ohio’s 9th district took a chance on her.

“I was rejected when I applied to the US Air Force Academy, to Notre Dame University when I was first seeking to go to college, and to the FBI because I was a woman,” she explained to NPR. Now, all three institutions accept women — a change Kaptur has been grateful to see within her lifetime.

With no signs of retiring, Kaptur hopes that her tenure will go on even longer. She sees that change takes time and she’s willing to put in the work.

“Well, I’m not finished with what I started to do,” she told NPR.

Here’s to many more years!

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(Photos by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for V-Day + Chip Somodevila/Getty)