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50 years later, Brenau celebrates Hall's first nursing class

POSTED: April 24, 2014 11:14 p.m.

Fifty years after the first class of nurses in Hall County began learning, Brenau University celebrated the graduation of its first nursing doctoral students.

The five new graduates were honored alongside the other 1,800 nurses who have graduated from the university’s nursing school in a recognition event Thursday on its East Campus at the Featherbone Communiversity in Gainesville.

Brenau University President Ed Schrader said he felt it was “amazing” to be celebrating half a century of healing in Hall County.

“To me, what that means is Brenau found the pathway to the future,” Schrader said.

Schrader highlighted the school’s growth from its beginnings as a three-year diploma program to its most recent addition of the doctoral degree.

The school has seen a lot of changes in the last half century.

Sonya Hancock, a member of the first graduating class, spoke about the school’s earliest days.

The Hall County School of Nursing, as it was originally called, graduated the first class of 10 nurses in 1963. The first students weren’t allowed to be married and were required to live together for three years in dormitories.

The school day began at 7 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m. The students were also expected by the Hall County Hospital’s Ladies Auxiliary Board to take lessons, such as ballet or swimming, designed to keep them active and cultured.

The uniform of the first class was a simple white dress — hemmed 11 inches above the floor — a white cap and blue dress cloak.

Hancock laughed and said the uniform was less than flattering.

She said it was exciting to see the school’s journey from a small diploma program with only 10 students to what it is today.

“You can only imagine what the next 50 years will bring,” Hancock said.

From 1960 to 1978, the nursing school was a part of the Hall County hospital, and students earned a diploma in nursing.

In 1978, a bachelor’s degree in nursing was initiated after the school was merged with then-Brenau College. The first degrees in nursing were awarded in the early 1980s and since that time the school has continued to offer more advanced degrees and expanded its health care education opportunities.

Today, Brenau’s nursing students wear black scrubs and take classes both online and in classrooms. About 80 undergraduate nurses are expected to graduate this year.

In addition to praising the students and faculty who worked to build and grow the school, Schrader presented a special recognition to Anne Warren Thomas, a key benefactor.

Schrader thanked Anne and George Thomas for the donation that allowed the school to expand into the Featherbone Communiversity facility on Chestnut Street. The communiversity was established in 2007.

“Anne and George have given to this community in very quiet ways for a long time. Anne has had a heart for health care and for quiet help for those people who can’t help themselves in a number of ways.”

The inaugural Anne Warren Thomas Professorship of Nursing and Health Care Leadership was established to honor Brenau faculty who exemplify compassion and service to others.

Anne Thomas said she was surprised by the recognition but thought it “was wonderful.”

The first award was presented to Sandra Greniewicki, director of the school of nursing.

Greniewicki said she was honored and “speechless.”

Greniewicki then thanked the 150 alumni and students in attendance and encouraged them to continue working toward better health for the community and world.

“We’ve looked back with great pride,” Greniewicki said. “Now we are challenged to look forward with great pride and with a plan for the future. Our president has led us to a greater view of health care. Now it’s up to us to work with our colleges to bring forth the health care that this community is going to need.”


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