College of Nursing

A First-Class Legacy

9/2/2016 8:00:00 AM - Jeff L. Peery

While the history of the BYU College of Nursing and its origin exists in various publications, not much is written about the first 25 nursing students to graduate, 60 years ago.

“We felt like guinea pigs at times,” Yolande Tew an alumna from the group says, “because it seemed the program was formulated just ahead of us, just enough for students to take the next step.”

She chuckles at the uniqueness of nursing in the mid-1950s compared to the current program, with its computerized manikins and global clinical practicums. “We could laugh now about having to sharpen and clean our syringe needles and get them ready for the autoclave to sterilize for the next use; disposable did not exist at that time,” says Tew.

She also remembers giving shots to oranges and then to the arms of peers (this practice at least has not changed): “That first time was always, ‘Ohhh, did I hurt you?’ And then you’d get the feel of what it took to do it again without pain.”

The new BYU School of Nursing started in spring 1952 with an enrollment of 80 students, all women, more than half of whom were from outside of Utah. This was significant because only 109 nurses had graduated the previous year in the entire state (as reported in the scrapbook of Vivian Hansen, the first dean of the nursing program). Attrition soon cut the class by more than two-thirds. Tew indicates that “individuals left the program due to marriage, [difficulty] with studies, financial concerns, or additional reasons.”

The Deseret News reported that the most significant moment of BYU’s June 1956 commencement was when the first nursing graduates stood and recited the Nightingale pledge—a modified Hippocratic oath composed in 1893 and named after Florence Nightingale.

Other traditions that originated during those first years include the college’s nursing cap, pin, uniform (a light blue dress with a white collar and sleeves), and yearbook. The pledge and yearbook traditions continued for several decades.

As a way to celebrate the legacy of the first class, the College of Nursing shares the following life accomplishments of these remarkable alumnae.

Lois Jane Abbott Alexanian started work at King County Hospital in Seattle. She later went back to school to receive a master of nursing in psychiatric and mental health before serving as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin for 18 years. Lois resides in Houston and is married to Raymond, a pioneer myeloma physician.

Geraldine Johnson Anderson worked as a public health nurse for more than a decade in Orange County, California. She loved working with and helping children during her nursing career. While raising her two children, she volunteered as a school nurse. Geraldine loved to do silk ribbon embroidery, smocking, and other heirloom sewing. Her greatest joy was spending time with her family, including her 15 grandchildren. She died October 2010 at age 76.

Janice Louise Asay Anderson served for two years as an events nurse for concerts at Arizona State University. Among her patients needing care were Elvis Presley, Neil Diamond, and Olivia Newton-John. Janice says her BYU education gave her a background to teach others and to help raise her five children. Janice resides in Payson, Utah.

Norma Tew Berntson developed great friendships at BYU and has stayed close with many. After graduation she worked in Elko, Nevada, where she met her husband, a surgeon. Later she became a head nurse in the recovery center at Primary Children’s Hospital. In 1999, after she had retired, her grandson was in the hospital, and she directed the staff on the best treatment for him. Norma loved her job. Norma resides in Salt Lake City.

Carol Beth Wheeler Brumfield devoted 50 years to nursing. After serving a mission in Brazil, she joined the faculty at the BYU College of Nursing, where she taught for 16 years. Her three children recall that their mother was voted one of the two most influential instructors at the college’s 40-year anniversary. Carol worked as an RN at LDS Hospital and at Woman’s Hospital in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; as director of women and children’s services at Mountain View Hospital in Payson, Utah; and as community education director for Primary Children’s Hospital. She was the college’s 2003 Honored Alumna. Carol died December 2012 at age 79.

Elsiemae Patterson Bryan devoted her life to the service of others. She enlisted as a nurse in the United States Air Force, became a chief nurse of several medical units, participated in the evacuation of troops from Vietnam, was selected as an outstanding U.S. reserve nurse on two occasions, was called to active duty during Desert Storm, and retired with the rank of colonel. Her daughter says she also served as a nursing director at Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City. Elsiemae died September 2008 at age 79.

Margaret Janene Ferre Bryson was employed by LDS Hospital, Utah Valley Hospital, Cottonwood Hospital, and Cottonwood Surgery Center; altogether her career spanned 48 years. She says her education “provided the skills and confidence to work in several areas of surgery, recovery room, and intensive care. It was also a great resource in raising my family, who are my greatest treasures—eight children, 31 grandchildren, and 33 great-grandkids.” Margaret resides in West Jordan, Utah.

Mary Alice Cook Dotson worked as a nurse in an Oregon hospital early in her marriage. She and her husband moved to Logandale, Nevada, where they owned and operated Moapa Valley Market. Mary continued working as a nurse and was instrumental in starting a clinic in Overton. She was the first dispatcher for the volunteer ambulance service in Moapa Valley. Her three children say she loved music and enjoyed volunteering as a foster grandmother at a local elementary school. Mary died January 2009 at age 75.

Gayla Lloyd Dye spent four months as a nurse at LDS Hospital before serving a mission to England from 1956 to 1958. She later worked as a public health nurse for Weber County. After two years, she suspended her nursing career to mother her six children. She resumed work in 1983 at a nursing home near Weber, Utah, and retired from the Ogden Clinic after 12 years. Gayla gives credit to her BYU education for making her a better parent and church leader. She enjoys traveling, quilting, painting, and completing family history work. Gayla resides in Uintah, Utah.

Carol June Randall Flanary worked at Utah Valley Hospital after graduation. A few years later she moved to Colorado and had a variety of jobs, including head nurse, general duty nurse, and evening supervisor. Carol worked at St. Luke’s Meridian Medical Center in Meridian, Idaho. She was a clinical assistant at Boise State University and taught psychiatric nursing and refresher registered-nursing courses. Carol resides in Logan, Utah.

Marjorie Ann Jones Gibbons met her husband shortly after graduation. Their five children tell the story of how she went to the U of U Institute to meet boys and their father (a med student) was there to meet girls. Later in life the two served a mission together that covered the Europe East Area, where they responded to medical problems in more than 40 missions, from Portugal to Siberia. Marjorie died November 2012 at age 78.

Ruth Mignon Kennington was the college’s first valedictorian and gave the graduation speech in 1956. She received her master’s degree in nursing from the University of Washington in 1964. She taught pediatrics at the University of Toronto and then obstetrics and pediatrics as an associate professor for 22 years in the BYU College of Nursing. Ruth died December 1989 at age 55 (due to an auto-pedestrian accident).

Evelyn Falslev Larsen was selected to join the honor society Phi Kappa Phi because of her exceptionally high grade point average. Through her 44 years of work, she touched lives at LDS Hospital, Budge Clinic in Logan, Cooley Memorial Hospital, Brigham City Community Hospital, and in an Alzheimer’s unit at Sunshine Terrace. Now retired, Evelyn encourages her large extended family to pursue careers in medicine. Within her family are six registered nurses, two nurse anesthetists, and an anesthesiologist (this list includes her son, five nieces, and a sister—Arlene Falslev Hobbs [BS ’67]). Evelyn resides in Brigham City, Utah.

Mary Katherine Phelan Miller worked as a registered nurse for 20 years. At age 46 she was reported missing by her family, on July 5, 1979. A few weeks later her vehicle was found along a dirt road in American Fork Canyon. Foul play is suspected in her disappearance, which remains unsolved.

Margaret Louise Park Pitt married her husband two days after graduation and later became the mother of two boys and four girls. She was a registered nurse at LDS Hospital and later at Lakeview Hospital in Bountiful, where she specialized in intensive care nursing. Her nursing career spanned 58 years. Margaret died May 2014 at age 80.

Pearl Rogers Reyne worked at LDS Hospital and then joined the Army Nurse Corps and worked at Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington State. She left the army in 1958 to start a family. Pearl worked at a small hospital in McMinnville, Oregon, over the next 14 years while raising three children and two step-children. Pearl loved giving one-on-one care. She dedicated 40 years to nursing, including 25 years at Mesa Lutheran Hospital in Arizona as a staff nurse, head nurse, and administrative coordinator. Her greatest joy was her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Pearl died December 2009 at age 75.

Mary Ann Hatch Salisbury worked at Utah Valley Hospital for six months in the surgery clinic. After marrying her husband, Todd, she served as a substitute nurse at the Budge Clinic in Logan for five years and later became the clinic’s director of nursing until her family of four kids started moving around the country. While in Logan, Ann volunteered at the first-aid booth at the yearly Tupperware convention; one hot summer, she helped revive more than 200 people who had passed out due to heat exhaustion by giving them oxygen and cold rags. Ann resides in Brigham City, Utah.

Alda Jane Bennett Sheldon completed a master’s degree from the University of Utah. She taught for several years, was an associate chief nurse, treated HIV patients, and worked with the Denver Center for Human Caring. Alda resides in Lake Bluff, Illinois.

Mary Lee Heiss Peterson Sieverts began nursing at the Seventh-day Adventist Hospital in Los Angeles, where the staff hired her because of her standards. Later she returned to Utah and worked for Cottonwood Hospital and then Doxey-Hatch Medical Center in Salt Lake City. Her career covered nearly 25 years. Mary Lee is grateful for and proud of her nursing degree. She resides in Sandy, Utah.

Waity Haws Miller Skym graduated in August 1956. She worked as an RN in a hospital in McNary, Arizona, until 1962 and then served a mission to Northern California. She later married Frank Skym and moved to Wentworth, Missouri, where they had three daughters—and eventually 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Waity returned to nursing in 1983 and worked as an RN at the Missouri Veterans Home in Mt. Vernon, Missouri, until retiring in 1993. She says her time at BYU made her a stronger Latter-day Saint. Waity resides in Wentworth.

Letha Eileen Doman Steelman married her husband, Don, while in the nursing program. Their three daughters say Letha actively served in the Church’s youth groups, genealogy programs, and Dallas Texas Temple. In Idaho, Letha worked with the Boise Health Department. In California, she worked as head nurse at Inglewood General Hospital, as director of nursing at Hawthorne Community Hospital, and as a school nurse at Hawthorne School District. She finished up her career as a school nurse in Redondo Beach. Letha died March 2008 at age 73.

Yolande Allen Thirl Tew was not sure if nursing or teaching seemed the better path to take for school. Her mother encouraged healthcare because she could see its potential for growth. After graduating, Yolande worked in the post-surgery recovery room at LDS Hospital. Several years later, she quit to enjoy her time as a mother. She received a 15-year volunteer service award from the American Red Cross in 1975. Yolande values her experiences as a nursing student and appreciates being among the first graduating class. Yolande resides in Provo.

Barbara Jo Whipperman worked as a nurse’s aide at LDS Hospital and graduated from the BYU College of Nursing with honors. While working as a public health nurse in Salt Lake City, Barbara converted to Catholicism. She received the name Sister Mary Joseph of the Sacred Heart and the Infant Jesus when she became a nun. She later became a member of the Carmelite Order and lived in a monastery for more than 40 years. Her energy and organizational skills helped produce the annual Carmelite Fair in Holladay, Utah, each fall. Barbara died July 2010 at age 77.

Nola Jean Davis Whipple worked in the heart surgery unit at LDS Hospital and then in the surgery unit at the Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital in Las Vegas. After serving a mission in Texas and New Mexico, Nola met her husband, had two children, and moved to Guatemala, where she started the first nursing office for the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala. She and her family later relocated to Kenya for three years, where Nola worked in the U.S. Embassy medical unit and was the medical doctor for the Peace Corps there. Nola resides in St. George, Utah.

Naomi Luika Kaawa Wilkinson returned to the island of Molokai, Hawaii, after graduating from BYU. She worked at Molokai General Hospital for two years, received RA training, and moved to Oahu. Later she worked at the Children’s Hospital in Kuakini, where she enjoyed working in the pediatrics operating room, before moving across the street to Shriners Hospital for Children, where she helped with reconstructive surgery. Kids came with disabilities, she helped fix them, and they left with smiles on their faces. Naomi resides in Kaneohe, Hawaii.

Note: College public relations assistants Brooke Tait and Kylee Spjut contributed to this article.