Put 50 young women together in close quarters 24/7 for two years. Add difficult coursework, demanding work schedules, and a sense of calling. The outcome: camaraderie and creativity.
So say Marge Gritter Houskamp and Barb Mingerink Swierenga. They were among the women who arrived at Calvin in the fall of 1959 for a year of pre-nursing courses. The following June, they and 10 students from Grand Rapids Junior College (JC) moved into Blodgett Lodge, a rambling dormitory adjoining Blodgett Hospital, where they would live and study together for two years to become registered nurses.
“We were together all the time,” Houskamp said, “in the cafeteria, in the one bathroom. We had the same courses and instructors. Under those conditions, closeness comes.”
“And a lot of creative things,” Swierenga added. “We had a choir and a bottle band that performed in a Nurses’ Music Night downtown.”
When the new nurses graduated in 1962, they didn’t want to lose their friendships. They decided to create a class newsletter, and JC classmate Eileen Witherspoon Torrey offered to compile it. Fifty-six years later the newsletter still circulates.
For most of those years Torrey typed and mailed copies in self-addressed envelopes that class members sent in with their year’s-worth of news. Now she emails it.
“We’ve laughed, cried, and reconnected with each other through all the changes in our lives,” said Swierenga.
In the 2007 newsletter Swierenga announced a creative idea. She had started a scholarship for nursing students at Calvin and invited classmates to add to her contribution. She issued the invitation again at their 50th reunion.
The Class of 1962 Nurses Scholarship now awards two recipients $3,700 each every year.
“Nursing has been very rewarding to us,” said Houskamp. “I’m so glad we can help others enter the field.”
Swierenga added, “Caring for others and helping them through different stages of life—it’s a big part of who we are.”