Nostalgic nurses: Auburn hospital grads reminisce at 50-year reunion

Mary Catalfamo | 8/6/19

AUBURN — In the ’60s, students in the School of Nursing at Auburn Community Hospital weren’t allowed to have a job, significant other or car while they were studying there. They also had to live in the hospital’s dorm rooms and adhere to a curfew of 7 p.m. on weekdays.

“It was like living in a convent,” said Judy Gilpatrick, 71, one of five graduates from the class of 1969 who returned to the hospital Thursday for a 50-year reunion.

Gilpatrick, along with fellow graduates Sue Bard, Marcia Harrison, Cindy Kline and Marjorie Kolceski, went for a walk down memory lane during a tour of the hospital. For three years, they trained and lived there as students. The graduates reminisced and pointed out major changes that took place over time while Tammy Sunderlin, vice president of nursing, showed them more recent renovations.

The graduates said the area that is currently used to place patients after surgery was once the operating room. They stopped by the area that once housed their dorms. The downward slope of the floor, at one point, sparked a chorus of, “I remember this.”

“Medicine itself has just progressed so much in 50 years. They didn’t have a lot of the stuff they have now when we graduated,” said Bard, a native of Jordan who now lives in Elbridge. “I don’t think there’s anything that’s the same, other than the slope of the floor.”

After graduating from the School of Nursing, Bard worked as a nurse in South Dakota, Brockport and the Cayuga County Nursing Home for 27 years, and retired from there as the assistant director of nursing.

In an auditorium near the hospital’s diagnostic imaging center, the graduates perused a display of memorabilia from the nursing school, which first opened in 1888 as The Training School for Nurses. The program, which was renamed the Auburn Memorial Hospital School of Nursing, graduated its last class in 1976.

They talked with each other in the auditorium about the rigorous training standards, and how one of the students dropped out after the first day.

“We were just kids out of high school, 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds that were here on a very stringent program,” Gilpatrick said. She estimated that they lost half of the class they started with, and worked all the shifts in all of the departments. “I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.”

Gilpatrick earned a degree in sociology from Eastern Nazarean College in Massachusetts after graduating from nursing school, then went into obstetrical and operating room nursing in hospitals across the country. She traveled to the reunion from her home in Colorado Springs.

Bard said she called the hospital about six weeks ago to ask if her graduating class could get a tour, but she didn’t expect the program that awaited them once they returned from seeing the facilities. Nurses and other hospital staff filled the lobby to listen to speeches from President Scott Berlucchi and others. Sunderlin and Berlucchi also presented the graduates with pins and flowers.

“Any physician that has any common sense at all understands that medicine can’t happen without nurses,” said Adam Duckett, a family medicine doctor with a practice at the hospital.

Bard said most of the graduates still keep in touch, and Gilpatrick added that they planned to continue catching up after the program with a barbecue later that day.

“The blur of the three years sometimes clouds what it was really like then, but I know it was long-lasting,” she said. “Fifty years I’ve been a nurse, so it was worth it.”