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First class of Hall nurses honored
4th annual Masters in the Art of Nursing celebrates 1963 nursing graduates
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Sonya Wood Hancock recalls her years as a nurse and how the profession changed during the course of her career as she takes the podium at the Brenau University Featherbone Communiversity. Hancock was one of 10 nurses who were honored for being part of the first class of nurse graduates from the school in 1963.

Master Nurses

Hazel Beatty Carroll

Occupation: Retired from Laurelwood, Northeast Georgia Medical Center

What inspired career in nursing: A family doctor suggested she apply for the newly formed program after reading about it in the newspaper

On master honor: “It’s very touching. I would like to think that over the years I’ve made a little impact on somebody’s life because I know the patients I’ve taken care of have made an impression on me.”

Education: Hall County School of Nursing, 1963

Residence: Jefferson

Barbara Morris Garrett

Occupation: Retired from Northeast Georgia Medical Center as director of performance improvement
What inspired career in nursing: Mother heard about nursing school on the radio and asked her to apply.

On master honor: “I think it’s great. Gus Whalen (founder of Featherbone Communiversity) is such a gentleman with such a vision. I think it’s great to keep nursing in the forefront.”

Education: Hall County School of Nursing, 1963, bachelor’s degree in human resource management from Brenau University

Residence: Bishop

Iantha Freeman Garrett

Occupation: Retired from Limestone Heritage nursing home

What inspired career in nursing: Desire to take care of patients’ needs

On master honor: “Honored”

Education: Hall County School of Nursing, 1963

Residence: Clermont

Sonya Wood Hancock

Occupation: Retired from Northeast Georgia Medical Center

What inspired career in nursing: “I just decided that I wanted to come to nursing school.”

On master honor: “This is wonderful and exciting for us. I think we’re blessed all 10 of us are alive and kicking and in good health.”

Education: Hall County School of Nursing, 1963, bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Brenau University in education, Ph.D in health management

Residence: Gainesville

Brenda White Heath

Occupation: Registered nurse for private in-home nursing care

What inspired career in nursing: Mother, a beautician, always pushed her to work. “I said mother, I know you want me to be a beautician but something tells me I want to be a nurse. I wasn’t inspired by anybody, it’s just what the good Lord told me.”

On master honor: “I think it’s a wonderful thing they’re doing for us ... we just thought we were a thing of the past.”

Education: Hall County School of Nursing, 1963

Residence: Gainesville

Nancy McCrary

Occupation: Retired, 25 years of nursing then owned a day care for 25 years

What inspired career in nursing: Mother who worked as a nurse’s aide in charge of an entire hospital floor

On master honor: “Awesome.”

Education: Hall County School of Nursing, 1963

Residence: Dahlonega

Carolyn Grant Walker

Occupation: Retired from private practice

What inspired career in nursing: “God led me in that direction.”

On master honor: “Unbelievable.”

Education: Hall County School of Nursing, 1963

Residence: Gillsville

Barbara Rogers Wood

Occupation: Registered nurse at The Longstreet Clinic

What inspired career in nursing: “As a child, that was all I ever wanted to do, was to be a nurse.”

On master honor: “It’s awesome that they would even recognize us 50 years down the road.”

Education: Hall County School of Nursing, 1963

Residence: Gainesville

Gina Bennett Boland

Occupation: Retired case manager of workers compensation investigations

What inspired career in nursing: Mother was a nurse, never thought about doing anything else

On master honor: “I think it’s really wonderful.”

Education: Hall County School of Nursing, 1963

Residence: Sarasota, Fla.

Johnnie Russell Strathern

Occupation: Retired inspector for state of Georgia Office of Regulatory Services

What inspired career in nursing: “I always wanted to be a nurse even as a child. I would check out library books about nurses.”

On master honor: “I think that’s great. We were the founders of the school, really, and we’ve stayed together all these years, too.”

Education: Hall County School of Nursing, 1963

Residence: Watkinsville

Like everything else, nursing has changed substantially in the last 50 years.

Half a century ago, the first class of the Hall County School of Nursing had a stripe removed from their nursing caps, signifying they’d finished their 36 consecutive months of intensive training and were ready to start their careers in health care.

The fourth annual Masters in the Art of Nursing, one of the master series sponsored by Brenau University and Featherbone Communiversity, honored the county’s first nursing school graduates Wednesday on the Brenau University East Campus at Featherbone Communiversity in Gainesville

Eight of the 10 1963 graduates attended the ceremony. Gina Bennettt Boland and Johnnie Russell Strathern were also honored though they were unable to attend.

The independent Hall School became the Brenau College School of Nursing in 1978.

Barbara Garrett, a master nurse, said she still remembers sitting in the backseat of her parents’ car on Sept. 11, 1960, as they pulled up to the two-story house on East Spring Street that was her new school.

Garrett said the moment she walked through the doors and into the room with nine other young women, they formed an “instant sisterhood.”

The women lived together for three years in the dormitory. Every day from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., the women worked on their studies, taking college courses and following physicians on their rounds.

The women shared memories from their days at the school, of the physicians who mentored them, and the physicians’ wives who befriended them.

On the weekends, the physicians’s wives and Hall County Hospital Ladies Auxiliary Board arranged activities to keep them “active” and “cultured.” The students were enrolled in swimming and ballet lessons and invited to parties on Lake Lanier on the weekends.

Garrett said most of the young women received a monthly allowance from their parents of between $5 and $10 to purchase necessities, so any fun the women had needed to be free.

The women weren’t allowed to be married and enrolled in the school and were required to live in the dormitory just a few feet from the hospital.

When the women graduated, each chose a physician who’d made the most impact on her to remove the stripe from her cap.

Hazel Beatty Carroll, a master nurse, said after graduation her first month on the job working night shift earned her $350. The women laughed and explained that tuition for all three years of their study cost $400.

The nurses remarked how much the health care industry has changed since they began their careers.

Garrett said in the beginning of her career there were times when she might be the only registered nurse working on a given shift.

Barbara Rogers Wood, a master nurse, said one of her jobs as a nurse was to gather the needles at the end of a shift. She was responsible for cleaning, sharpening, checking for barbs and sanitizing needles for the next day’s use.

Sonya Wood Hancock, a master nurse who worked in the emergency room for 30 years, remembered running down the hall with a 6-foot-tall defibrillator to revive a patient whose heart had stopped. These days, the machines are small, plentiful and easily transported.

Several student groups, including current Brenau University nursing students and Featherbone Academy high school students, attended the ceremony.

On the stage, a mannequin dressed in a uniform worn by the first class — a white dress, hemmed 13 inches above the floor, white cap with a stripe and a blue dress cloak. Students wearing black scrubs with the Brenau emblem sat in the audience.

The younger students often chuckled at the stark contrast between nursing then and now.

“You may laugh at our pioneering stories,” Hancock said. “But I would bet your stories are going to be even more dramatic.”

This year, 77 students are expected to graduate from Brenau’s nursing program.

Many of those in attendance took the opportunity to thank the nurses on behalf of the many patients they’ve healed and helped throughout their careers.

Gainesville City Councilwoman Ruth Bruner and Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Dick Mecum read from a proclamation at the beginning of the ceremony announcing the week of Sept. 22-28 is Masters in the Art of Nursing Week.

Mecum took a moment to personally thank the women who dedicated their lives and careers to helping heal others.

Mecum served as sheriff of Hall County for a number of years and often visited the emergency room.

He said there was nothing more “reassuring” than rushing into the hospital after an accident and seeing the nurses jump into action.

“Every nurse there was extremely reassuring,” Mecum said. “I don’t have words to fully express my gratitude for you.”

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