21 December, 2017
It has been 50 years since Florence Dial, Paulette Tinker Self and Karen McCreless enrolled in the very first nursing class at Gadsden State Community College but the three women still remember those days fondly.
“Going to Gadsden State was life-changing for me,” said Self. “If it wasn’t for Gadsden State, I would’ve never been a nurse.”
Self, Dial and McCreless were in a class of 11 when Gadsden State started its nursing program in 1967. They were joined by Mary Pearce Adams, Mary Bailey, Y.C. Parris Jr., Eva Knowles Bailey, John Lavender, Diana Stamler, Billy Raines and Georgia Sewell.
“We were a close group of students,” said McCreless. “We had every class together – even classes that weren’t nursing classes. A lot of us studied together. We really depended on each other for big tests.”
At 18 years old, McCreless said she was inexperienced and naïve when she joined the nursing class.
“We had three males enrolled in nursing school with us, and I admit that I was doubtful about them being in our class at first,” she said. “I didn’t know what they were trying to do. I had never heard of men wanting to be nurses. I just didn’t think they would want to be a nurse but I was wrong. Men make great nurses.”
It was during nursing school that McCreless had many new experiences – like meeting a nun for the first time in her life. Sister Anne Joachim Hogan was the director of the nursing program from 1967 to 1969.
“I was scared to death of her,” she said. “I had never been around a Catholic nun before and, you know, there were stereotypes. When we started clinicals, she went with me to do my first catherization. I was on my way to contaminating something and she slapped my hand to stop me. It terrified me.”
But the learning experiences Sister Anne provided were second to none.
“She was the best instructor in the world for us,” she said. “She was patient. She wanted us to learn; to succeed. She could have a gruff exterior but she was a kind person and an excellent teacher.”
McCreless graduated in 1969 and embarked on a long career in Alabama and Tennessee. She retired after 30 years as a nurse, most of it in Labor and Delivery.
“I am so glad that Gadsden State put me on a path to a career that I loved so much,” she said. “I really didn’t know what I was going to do had I not been selected for the nursing program. I didn’t have a backup plan. Going to Gadsden State was my only plan.”
Like McCreless, Self was thrilled to be accepted into the nursing program.
“I worked hard to be successful, and I was thankful that I was selected to be in the first class,” she said. “How we did in class determined whether or not the program would continue. We had to succeed for those wanting to be nurses after us.”
Self was 17 years old and living with her sister and brother-in-law when she decided she wanted to be a nurse.
“My father died when I was 7 years old,” she said. “I came from a poor family so I knew I had to further my education locally if I was going to do it all. I knew I wanted to be a nurse from the start. My goal in life was to help others. It’s always been that way.”
Self received an $86 social security check every month as a dependent of her deceased father. She was allowed to pay her tuition in small installments from the social security check.
“If Gadsden State had not worked out a payment plan for me, there’s no way I could’ve attended College,” she said. “I’ve always been grateful.”
Self went on to a remarkable career as a registered nurse that lasted almost 42 years.
“I worked mostly in Pediatrics and loved it,” she said. “I love children. I love caring for them. I had a wonderful career. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Dial was 37 years old when she decided she wanted to be a nurse, a decision that was finalized after her husband received a bad prognosis following an industrial accident.
“I was the mother of four children, including one baby,” she said. “I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have a college education. I didn’t know what I would do without my husband. I said, ‘God, please show me the way.’”
During her husband’s recovery, she became intrigued with the skills and job duties of the nurses.
“I watched the nurse every time she came in to help my husband and thought, ‘I can do this. This is something I can and want to do,’” she said.
She then saw a newspaper advertisement for the new nursing program at Gadsden State. Her husband, James, who recovered from his injuries, encouraged her to enroll so she could have a career of her own.
Transitioning from a stay-at-home mother to a nursing student wasn’t easy.
“I felt like I was on the moon sometimes,” she said. “I had no idea what my teacher was talking about and I had no idea what I was doing. I was ready to give up.”
Dial’s husband once again encouraged her – and bribed her – to stay enrolled.
“He asked me to give it one quarter,” she said. “If I completed at least a quarter, he’d buy me a car.”
Not only did she last a quarter but she eventually graduated and began a long career at Gadsden Regional Medical Center. She spent 25 of her 30 years in nursing in the operating room. She retired on New Year’s Eve 1999.
“When I retired, I cried for two weeks,” she said. “I really missed going to work and taking care of people.”
Dial said Gadsden State played a huge part in her happy life.
“I’ve had so many miracles in my life, and I consider Gadsden State to be one of them,” said the 85-year-old. “I always recommend Gadsden State. It’s a wonderful school. It was an answer to my prayers. I always say that God showed me the way to Gadsden State.”