In the fall of 1966, 25 high school graduates from small towns in Nebraska and Wyoming began nursing school at West Nebraska General Hospital School of Nursing. They came from Hay Springs, Bayard, Sidney, Cambridge, O’Neill, Lyman, Torrington, Madrid, Henry, Rushville, Kimball, Lewellen, Albin, Elsie, and of course, Scottsbluff and Gering.

West Nebraska General Hospital’s nursing school offered Panhandle area students a convenient and affordable post-secondary education, but more important, it guaranteed a career opportunity. The hospital established the school in 1924 to ensure the availability of well-trained nurses and throughout its history, hired most graduates who chose to work there.

On Aug. 31, many of the school’s graduates will celebrate the 50th reunion of the West Nebraska General Hospital School of Nursing with dinner at the Legacy of the Plains museum and other activities. Class of 1969 graduates will be joined by members of the classes of 1968 and 1970.

Recently, three of the graduates who planned the reunion, each of whom worked for the hospital and retired from Regional West, shared their memories of the school and the opportunities it provided.

Kathi Yost, originally from Cambridge, Nebraska, was drawn to nursing after caring for her mother who was seriously ill while Kathi was in high school. Class of 1968 graduate Barb Goldman, who grew up in Crawford, was inspired to become a nurse by the nurse for whom she babysat during high school. And like many young women whose careers were chosen for them 50 or more years ago, Joyce Hinze, originally from Henry, became a nurse because her dad told her that was what she was going to do. 

“The school was very good. Everything was hands-on, we were required to maintain a certain grade point average and if you didn’t, you were required to study from 6 to 9 p.m. five nights a week, we also had the opportunity to work in all areas of the hospital,” said Hinze. “In order to graduate, we had to assist or observe 25 deliveries, so we were very well-trained.”

Like most schools in the 1960s, the school of nursing was strict. Students were required to wear dresses, hose, and their nurses’ caps while working. Female students were only allowed to wear slacks in the library or to the evening meal in the dining room; however, smoking was acceptable anywhere in the dormitory. They had to check in and out of the dormitory, and could stay out no later than 11 p.m. Marriage was discouraged, but with faculty approval, married students could remain in the school of nursing until graduation.  

Even admission to the school was strict. Kathi Yost almost wasn’t admitted (and was actually rejected by another nursing school) because at 5 feet tall, she was considered too short for nursing. The school’s director, Virginia Miller, who was only a couple of inches taller, was kind enough to admit Yost to the program. For years, wherever Kathi went in the hospital, she carried a stool her grandfather built for her; enabling her to always do her job.  

“Those were the kind of things you had to do. You didn’t argue with authorities about the rules. You were just glad to go to school and get a job,” said Yost.  

Upon graduation, all three were hired by the hospital for well-paying nursing jobs. Two of them recalled their starting wages. Kathi Yost was hired for the Third Floor nursing unit at $3.25 per hour. Joyce Hinze was hired for the Maternity unit at $4.42 per hour.  

The school was originally located on the 6th floor of the old hospital building at 18th and Broadway. That was convenient for striking up open window conversations with Hiram Scott College students who attended classes on the 6th floor of the Consumers Public Power building across the street.

The class of 1969 was the last class to live at the Nelson-Ladely Hall, a former sugar factory dormitory in Gering. The students were transported by bus to and from the hospital for classes and clinical practice.  

In 1967, the students helped ready the hospital for the grand opening and later helped moved patients from the old hospital to the new one. With the opening of the new hospital, the nursing students moved into a new dormitory in the area now occupied by the Human Resources Department.

Classrooms were located at the north end of the new hospital’s first floor, where administrative offices are now located. In addition to taking academic courses, the students served as staff, assisting nurses in providing patient care to gain clinical practice.

After completing the three-year diploma program in 1969, 20 of the 25 student nurses graduated. Many married students from Hiram Scott College. Some went to the military, but most joined the staff of West Nebraska General Hospital and many continued to work there until retiring.  

For more information about the West Nebraska General Hospital School of Nursing reunion, contact Kathy McCool at 308-631-3371 or klmccool48@gmail.com. Students from other classes are welcome to stop by the Legacy of the Plains to visit, however dinner will be by reservation.

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