Muriel Tomkins Niemi is a native of Montreal. As a young woman, she worked for the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Later, she studied at Concordia, Wisconsin, and Harvard University. In 1965, she moved to Vancouver to teach at the University of British Columbia. In 1968, she married John Niemi, a Finnish-American professor of adult education. Together, they moved to DeKalb, Illinois, where they both taught at Northern Illinois University. After his death in 2004, Muriel returned to Vancouver where she lives in a retirement home.

In her book for the young and not-so-young, From Cold-Water Flat to Harvard University: A Memoir (Trafford Publishing 2011), Muriel Tomkins Niemi reveals a life story that began in Montreal at the height of the Great Depression and continues today as she enriches others with her real tales of human experience, adventure, romance, financial and academic struggles and bereavement.

Growing up during the Great Depression, Niemi dreamed dreams of world travel and getting a fine education, but her prospects were dismal. Her father was a World War I veteran who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was gassed and wounded at Passchendaele. Upon his return, he married her mother and joined the postal service, but he was frequently laid off during a period when there was no employment insurance. All of this affected Niemi's formative years and magnified her desire to emerge triumphant in life.

After seven years working at the head office of the Bank of Montreal, Niemi accepted a position as secretary at the headquarters of the newly established International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Montreal, beginning a period of world travel that took her to major cities all around the world. During her seven years with IATA, she earned a bachelor's degree through evening study at Sir George Williams College (now Concordia University) in Montreal.

Subsequently she left IATA out of a deep desire to further her education. She obtained a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin and then a doctorate in English from Harvard University. Finally, she had realized her dream of a fine education. Along the way, she taught at McGill University, the University of British Columbia, and Northern Illinois University. During this time, she met her husband, a Finnish-American who grew up in an immigrant community in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They enjoyed a happy marriage that lasted 35 years until his death in 2004.