Museum commemorates former Methodist hospitals program 

Jan 28
2009

BY SUSAN ERLER
serler@nwitimes.com

Carolee Kaufman Epperson laughed, recalling the years leading up to her 1947 graduation from the nursing college at Methodist Hospitals.

The students, all women, roomed and studied in the two-story red brick building at Fifth Avenue and Grant Street that now houses Methodist Hospitals administrative offices.

Kaufman Epperson recalled how extracurricular activities were scrutinized.

"A house mother checked us in and out," said Kaufman Epperson, 80, of Portage.

The Methodist Hospitals President and Chief Executive Officer Ian McFadden on Tuesday officially opened a museum housing relics from the college's 44 years in existence.

"This is a proud day, McFadden said. "This is a monumental museum for all of Northwest Indiana."

Kaufman Epperson was a student during the college's heydey, before education and training for nurses moved into university settings.

Before it closed its doors in 1967, the three-year program produced more than 720 licensed nurses, many of whom stayed at Methodist or matriculated into other local hospitals, schools or doctors and dentists offices.

In housing the museum, Methodist "is taking a leading role in showing appreciation for this noble profession," said Amead Attasi, Methodist medical staff president.

Hazel Witte, a 1945 graduate, and other alumni spent past months gathering the decades-old surgical instruments, starched white aprons and stiff nurse's caps that fill the displays.

A metal hospital bed that required manual labor to crank the mattress to a sitting position takes center stage, a relic of the time before the push of a button did the job.

In the early days, nurses not only cared for patients' medical needs but often cooked meals and prescribed medication, said Witte.

World War II brought about new technology and life-saving pharmaceuticals, Witte said.

The Salk polio vaccine helped empty a ward in the hospital that housed victims of the crippling disease, some of them encased in the cylinder shaped iron lung machines that aided breathing.

Gun shot wounds were rare, and the first gall bladder surgery was memorable, Witte said.

"Now they're doing heart and kidney transplants," she said.

Sally Beday Carey, who toured the museum along with Kaufman Epperson Tuesday, said she was the first person of Hispanic heritage to graduate from the college, in 1954.

"They were some of the best years of my life," said Beday Carey, of Gary. "It was like a close knit family."

If you go:
What: Methodist Hospitals School of Nursing Museum
Where: First Floor of the Administration Building, 550 Grant St., Gary
When: Open to the public on the third Wednesday of every month, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Admission: Free
To schedule a tour: Call (219) 886-5972

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