General Hospital School of Nursing reunion

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Pictured at the reunion are (in front L-R) Catherine Poirier and Marilyn Bender. In back (L-R) are Linda Gutzman, and Grace Andress.

It was an evening of rekindling old friendships and reminiscing about a bygone era, on Friday night, when the Cornwall General Hospital former School of Nursing Alumni held its annual reunion dinner, at the Royal Canadian Legion.

As with each year, the event recognized the school’s 50 year grads, this year, from the class of 1963, explained Catherine Poirier, Class of ’66, alumni president and event coordinator.

It certainly was another time, she explained. “Training, (three years) did not cost back then. You got $15 dollars a month from the hospital, after a probationary period. We learned and worked at the same time.”

A different time, indeed, she reminisced. “We couldn’t wear pants or shorts outside of the nurses residence.” Skirt and dresses were required for the student nurses, who had a curfew and a code of conduct to abide by.

“There were only two businesses downtown, a ladies clothing store called Bunny’s and the Jade Garden. They would cash our cheques and give us credit.”

Poirier, who would eventually retire in the late 80s, began her career working with the male patients on the first floor at the General Hospital. “At that time they segregated men and women (who were on the second floor).”

Poirier said that a student would start in September, and by December they would be “in charge of the floor” as though they had 10 years training.  Of the many highs and lows of the job, she said that you never forget the first time a patient dies. “Everybody remembers when their first patient that dies.”

The best part, however, was the sisterhood forged between the close-knit group.

Among the 102 alumni in attendance, Grace Andress, from graduating class of 1950, first worked at the General Hospital until 1976, then on the maternity ward, at the Hotel Dieu until 1988, when she retired.

“As a little girl I thought I’d like to be a nurse,” said Andress, who enjoyed her time working in maternity. “That was a happy place. There were some sad moments, but mostly a happy time. We had a lot of fun.”

“Unfortunately the girls today are tied up with paper work, said the mother of three, whose oldest daughter is also nurse. “They are short staffed; so many more tests being done; medicine has progress so much.”

“In those days (women) had three choices: teacher, secretary and a nurse. I always wanted to be a nurse,” said Linda Gutzman, class of 1964, who comes every year from Petawawa for the reunion. “It’s nice to see all the faces again.”

From the class of ’63, Marilyn Bender, was one of the 50th anniversary grads being celebrated at this event.  After seven years at the General Hospital, she went on to spend 32 years as a community service nurse with the Victorian Order of Nurses.

“I loved being with people, helping,” said the grandmother of five who retired in 1997. “Nursing was a perfect fit.”

As well, among those in attendance was the most senior grad, Marion McNeil, from the class of '46.

The reunions will continue annually until the last class has celebrated its 50th. The school closed in 1969.

Organizations: General Hospital School, School of Nursing Alumni, Royal Canadian Legion.As Jade Garden Victorian Order

Geographic location: Petawawa

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