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Nursing school graduates make memorial

September 25, 2018

STAMFORD — Stamford Hospital’s long-defunct nursing school may no longer be around, but a group of graduates is hoping to keep the memory of the educational institution alive.

Patricia Sileo Agostino and Brenda Peters Grant — nurses who graduated from the school that closed in 1976 — have been working for months to memorialize the school they cherished.

On Tuesday, they unveiled the fruits of their labor: a bronze sculpture of two hands holding a replica of the Stamford Hospital School of Nursing cap.

Students at the school, which opened in 1901 and closed as nursing programs shifted to colleges and universities, were given the white caps when they began their studies. As they progressed, they earned light-colored bands for the caps, and eventually, a black band when they graduated.

Agostino, Class of ’67, and Grant, class of ’69, said the program model was labor-intensive and challenging. Agostino said the nurses at the school covered all shifts, year-round, with only three weeks off in August. The school wasn’t merely an educational program, as the student nurses provided staff for the hospital.

“Everybody thought it was an excellent school that produced very competent and caring nurses,” Agostino said.

Rosina Zezima, who graduated in 1945, said the program was demanding, but produced great results.

“You think back and figure that you had almost a better education because it was so intense,” she said, comparing the program to modern-day medical schools.

She remembered a stretch where she worked every night shift without a night off for three months.

She finally got a night off, only to get a call that day before 2 p.m. asking her to come back.

“You wouldn’t dare say no,” she said, laughing.

The school provided staffing for the hospital during times of need, such as the 1916 polio epidemic and the 1918 flu pandemic, which struck more than 1,800 residents, according to Christina Scott, a hospital spokesperson.

During World War II, over 50 graduates from the school joined the armed services. Nellie DeWitt, one of the graduates, served in both world wars and became the first director of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps.

Kathleen Silard, COO of Stamford Hospital, and a nurse herself, said the former nursing school had 953 graduates over its history. There are currently four nursing school graduates who work at the hospital.

It was considered one of the best schools in the country and was granted magnet status, given for nursing excellence, by the American Nursing Credentialing Center.

But as the years went by since the school closed, and its former home was torn down, people needed to be reminded about the highly regarded school, said Helen Keeley, acting president of the nursing school’s alumni association.

“What we found was that many younger people had no idea there was a school here. We just needed something to acknowledge the fact that we were here,” Grant said.

The sculpture will be placed in a display case in the hallway that connects the old hospital with the new building.

Agostino said the hands in the sculpture symbolize “any nurse’s hands.”

“I invite all nurses to view this sculpture as a tribute to the nursing profession and to nurses everywhere,” she said.

ignacio.laguarda@stamfordadvocate.com

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