Dean Wendy Nehring’s Welcome at Museum Exhibit Opening (2014)

Dr Wendy Nehring

Dr. Wendy Nehring

Good afternoon.  As Dean of the College of Nursing at East Tennessee State University, I am honored to be here today to welcome each of you to this important occasion on National Nurse’s Day.  To our honored guests today, the nurses and graduates of the Knoxville General Hospital School of Nursing, their families and friends, Dr. Bishop, Dr. Loury, Dr. Pollitt, Ms. Hilbert, Ms. Whaley, and other guests, welcome.  Many of you have traveled far to be here today, and I thank you for doing so.

As you may know, ETSU is recognized for its storytelling expertise and programs.  It is fitting that we gather today here at ETSU to honor the history and stories of the KGH School of Nursing, which operated from 1902-1956, and to unveil the permanent historical exhibit with a Proclamation from the Mayor that will forever preserve these stories.  Each of the students, faculty, staff, and administrators of this important nursing program has a story to tell.  Many of these stories have been told to family and friends and others kept to the original author.  Many of them will be shared today and remembered in this exhibit.

There are many reasons to remember this school of nursing.  One, this was one of the earliest nursing programs in East Tennessee, originating in 1902.  Two, the reputation at the turn of the 20th Century for this school was so great and nationally recognized that students soon came from as far away as Florida and Arizona.  Three, many of the students were from lower economic backgrounds, and many were orphans or were raised by single parents.  Bernice Davis Gibbs, a 1941 graduate, stated that her mother sold timber so that she could pay tuition and, when Bernice got to Knoxville, she did not have any money to send a card home that she had arrived safely.  Communities also got together to send one of their own to school so that she could return to care for them.  This was the case for Eliza Baker Hix, a 1943 graduate.  Students were all ages and from different ethnicities, including the area Cherokee Indian tribe.

The graduates of this amazing nursing program have also accomplished so much. Many of the graduates served during World War II in the Cadet Nursing Corps, and they will be recognized later.  Others were in Army and Navy Nurse Corps for other wars and/or times of military involvement.

Billie McNamara has told us that these are just a few stories and a snapshot of the almost 900 individual stories.  I must point out that Billie is an amazing person who took an idea and a passion for this program as her mother was a graduate and, over the years, has reached out to every graduate that she could, started a Web site and a Facebook page, and now, along with her research colleague, Sharon Loury, and with the help of Martha Whaley, have this permanent exhibit at the Museum at Mountain Home.  Congratulations.

I must say that I am touched by this accomplishment that we are honoring today.  I, too, have dabbled in history, writing about nurses who specialize in intellectual disabilities.  This year, the ETSU College of Nursing celebrates 60 years, as we are the oldest university nursing program in East Tennessee.  I understand the passion that goes into the work that has culminated in this exhibit.  I know the feeling when you talk to people who were there, who take the time to share their stories, the memorabilia that they have saved, the pictures, and the desire to see each other again.  And here we are.

Remember this day.  Soak all of this in.  Today is for you, the nurses of Knoxville General Hospital School of Nursing.  Welcome to Johnson City, the VA of Mountain Home,  ETSU, and your new exhibit.  Congratulations.

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