Nurses mourn loss of school building

For most, ghosts are figures to fear, evil spirits from the netherworld come back to do harm.

But as Deanne Rucker passed by the grass and weeds growing through the cracks along South Burnett Road just before Halloween, she sensed a friendlier presence.

“I could see the ghosts of doctors who had been there and did a wonderful service to the community and healed people.”

Similarly, “If I walked up on units of the old City Hospital, I’d see ghosts of nurses that have gone on before,” she said.

“I have such vivid recollections of those spaces,” added the a 1961 graduate of the Community Hospital School of Nursing, spaces in which a once scared little girl grew into a responsible nurse.

Their old school was absorbed into the Clark State Community College-Springfield Regional School of Nursing on June 30. And with its Burnett Road building about to come down, Rucker and others have been nursing their personal memories of a professional program that trained more than 3,000 nurses from 1904 to 2012.

Dee Haulman, president of the Class of 1968, said the school caused “the first fight I ever had with my mother.”

Haulman knew no one at the school, was raised in Chillicothe and had no compelling argument to counter her mother’s preference for the Riverside School of Nursing in Columbus.

“It was the building when I walked in” that attracted her, Haulman said, “especially the formal dining room.”

And so she joined the others in her class on assignments, practicing canasta as well as psychiatric nursing in their rotation to Toledo State Hospital, then moving on to Cincinnati for their pediatric training.

She loved Mrs. Rutherford as a house mother, even when hiding from her under a classmate’s bed so she could continue an after-hours pop-and-chips party.

Only 17 and shy when she arrived, Carol Williams will always remember being glued to the television following the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

More fondly, she recalls dancing the can-can during a musical and enjoying the petite, chipper presence of Mrs. Blaney, her house mother.

Unlike Williams, who always knew she wanted to be a nurse, a young Jane Irwin hadn’t given it any thought.

She only visited the school because friend Jerenia Parsons asked her to, then wrote a note telling the school not to send her an application unless scholarship money was available.

It was, and so in the days when doctors didn’t carry any cash in their scrubs, Irwin floated a loan to an anesthesiologist who needed pizza money.

Irwin recalls her fear the first time she had sole care of patients on a hospital floor at night, fear she eventually overcame with the advice and help of teachers like Eileen Moore, Grace Jackson and Lydia Kempler and the examples of Drs. Montanus, Schanher, Winterhoff and Andarsio.

None prepared her, though, for what a man said when she called to inform him that if he wanted a last visit with a family member he ought to come right away.

“I’m coming down there,” he told her, “but he’d better be dead this time.”

Bonnie Longo took her first nursing class at age 31, fresh from “my winter of discontent.”

That was the winter her second child went to school and she discovered she was not a stay-at-home mom.

“I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be a nurse, but I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” Longo said.

She eventually did both, teaching students who hadn’t had to study in high school how to do so; taking inspiration from the same students who turned their lives around by pursuing nursing; and both learning and teaching that nursing is more than simple technical competence.

“Taking care of people goes deeper than that,” she said.

“To be there when they’re sick and alone and unhappy and dying,” is a higher challenge, said Longo, one that makes nursing “a very spiritual vocation.”

“It’s different to teach people to care for someone,” in the wider and deeper sense of the word, she said.

As though providing a case study in the benefits a hospital reaped from its own school of nursing, Donna Myers stayed nearly 40 years after arriving from East Clinton, Ohio, in 1968.

“It was such a friendly, inviting place,” she said. As a student, she enjoyed the capping, pinning and ring ceremonies that helped students bond with one another.

After graduation, she came to enjoy the pace of the operating room and then the feeling of accomplishment involved in guiding patients and families through the post-operative world that starts in the recovery room.

“There’s a lot of patient education in nursing,” she said.

“You always felt like a family there. And the patients were comfortable and the families comfortable” as students became full-fledged nurses and “set the bar high for nursing care.”

In her 17 years as director of the School of Nursing, Louise Carroll helped move it out of the puritanical age into the modern age, reasoning that students needed to take responsibility for their personal lives to develop the responsibility and initiative required to take care of patients.

“We had a lot of little country girls,” she said. “They would come to Springfield because their parents thought they’d be safe here. And they’d just marvel at the world.”

“I loved those students,” she added, “and many of them stayed and worked here all their lives. They were just the cutest things, they really were. And they made beautiful nurses.”

As much as she’ll miss the school of nursing, Carroll feels a greater sense of loss for the hospital where she spent 15 years as a vice president of nursing after leaving the school.

Missy Hawley, a graduate who went on to work at the hospital, felt much the same on her last tour of the abandoned buildings.

“I was in the dome that you see coming in town from the east. I was also on the room under the dome and could see to the edge of town. The huge beams that supported this landmark will no longer be visible from the outskirts of the city.

“As I walked up and down the stairs, I thought about how many who had gone before me and how medicine has changed from the time the nurses started at Miller Hall to the last graduating class.

“It was sad to see, but I was honored to be part of that rich history.”

She is not alone.

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