Helen L. Monroe's granddaughter doesn't really remember her grandmother talking much about her history, but she does remember her determination, which she used to found Lincoln University's School of Nursing and make it part of the history of the community.
The 50th anniversary of LU's nursing school is being celebrated this weekend. Monroe was appointed in 1968 as director of the school — then known as the Department of Nursing Science — and the first nursing students were admitted in fall 1969.
"Now that I am 50 years old, it makes more sense to me, the path that she was on and her drive and determination for getting this program started," Jackie Henry said last week of her grandmother.
Henry and her brothers, Michael and Tyrone Oliver, moved to live with Monroe when Henry was 7 years old. She remembers her grandmother taking her to LU's campus to see things in the nursing department.
Monroe died in 2004, Henry said.
"My grandmother always stood up to any challenge, whether it was a person, a job, whatever; she was just very determined. The passion that she had for helping people and healing people, I know my grandmother knew that other people had that passion. I think she wanted to try to instill and create something in those folks as well who loved nursing and healing and helping folks. I think she wanted to create something where they could also fulfill their passion," Henry said.
Origins of nursing program
LU's nursing school was born in 1967 of a request from three area hospitals — St. Mary's Health Center, Memorial Community Hospital and Charles E. Still Osteopathic Hospital — to address a shortage of registered nurses.
"It seems to be that there's always a shortage of nurses. We may hit a lull for a little bit, but there's always that; it's always on the horizon," said Ann McSwain, the current dean of LU's School of Nursing.
The Memorial Community and Charles E. Still hospitals later merged to form Capital Region Medical Center.
Monroe was from Jacksonville, Florida, and before coming to LU, she taught at Florida A&M, Virginia State and Mississippi Valley State universities and worked in New York City, according to a "History of Lincoln University School of Nursing."
"She was a black woman with a bachelor's and a master's degree in nursing," McSwain said. "Having a master's degree in nursing now, it's a big deal. Having it back in the '60s, that was a really big deal.
"And to come here, to Jefferson City, how many miles away from home, to start something that you — I don't know 50 years ago she would have realized that it would still be around and still be doing as well as it is. But she started something great for this community, and I'm a product of this program," as well as other faculty who've returned to teach, McSwain added.
Henry said, "There were a lot of challenges, first and foremost being a woman but then also being an African American woman."
She doesn't remember her grandmother talking much about her history — and she would like to know it — but she thought her grandmother was probably looking for a fresh start and an escape from racial segregation in the South, and maybe the programs in the South she had worked with "weren't seeing the bigger picture that she had envisioned and the vision that God laid on her heart to do."
During and well after Monroe's time at LU, the school of nursing continued to grow — from the first graduating class of 16 students who became licensed as registered nurses to the up to 30 students currently admitted each semester, with five such cohorts of 30 students each per year at LU's main campus.
McSwain said the nursing school's satellite campus at Fort Leonard Wood also admits 40 students per year.
The main campus can admit up to 150 students a year — 30 students in each of five cohorts — and up to 80 students can be admitted each year at Fort Leonard Wood, she said.
McSwain is a 1989 graduate from LU's nursing school.
"I think it's important to think about your roots and where things started, not only with the founder for this program but also the instructors that help you get to where you need to be," she said. "For me, I think about the department head deans that were before me. I think about the faculty and the fact that helped raise me to become this nurse. If I didn't have this foundation, I wouldn't be able to do the things I do now."
A history of growth
Linda Bickel started as department head of the LU nursing school in 1987, after teaching there since 1979.
Bickel was department head for 12 years, and after other administrative roles, she came back as a faculty member of the nursing school between 2016-18, before retiring.
She can relate some to being in Monroe's shoes; LU's nursing program admitted its first students to the Fort Leonard Wood satellite program in 1989.
That program also came about by request — that time, requested by the U.S. Army, Bickel said — to be the first civilian-nursing program on a military installation.
"It takes a lot of effort. It takes a lot of planning," Bickel said of starting something new — especially as, unlike other academic programs, nursing is a field that falls under the regulation of a professional body, the Missouri State Board of Nursing.
Opening the program at Fort Leonard Wood also meant working with the regulations and regimentation of the U.S. Army.
Bickel said the nursing school adapted its two-year associate degree program into a three-year, part-time evening program for Fort Leonard Wood: "That was basically designed so that military personnel could attend classes in the evening."
LU's on-campus associate degree program had received its first national accreditation in 1988. A two-year degree is only currently offered at Fort Leonard Wood; since 2014, the school of nursing has offered a nationally accredited bachelor of science in nursing — a four-year program.
The first BSN classes graduated in December 2016.
The school also offers an online program for people already registered nurses to obtain their BSN.
An LU nursing program in Rolla no longer exists; that was merged into the Fort Leonard Wood program, McSwain said.
Stamp of approval
"We've always been told that, 'We can always tell when it's a Lincoln University nursing alum at the bedside.' Patients can always tell," McSwain said. "Our colleagues in the clinical setting have always said that, 'We can always tell when it's a Lincoln graduate there. There's something about them, they're just a little different.'
"With the 50th (anniversary) coming, I think it's been a time of reflection for a lot of people and just what our nurses have been doing since they've left here."
McSwain said Fort Leonard Wood program graduates tend to be more transient because of Army deployments or relocations with family, but most of the on-campus BSN program graduates stay in the area — with many graduates at St. Mary's Hospital, Capital Region Medical Center, Boone Hospital Center and University Hospital.
St. Mary's Hospital officials told the News Tribune the hospital employed more than a dozen LU nursing program graduates in the last year.
"Having an institution such as Lincoln University in our backyard has proved to be beneficial to our entire community," St. Mary's Chief Nursing Officer Mike Hyde wrote in an email.
Hyde is a 1997 LU nursing program alum. He also served on the planning committee for this weekend's gala celebrating the nursing school's 50th anniversary.
"The number of exceptional students who graduate and come to work at St. Mary's has been significant over the years, and we are extremely grateful for our existing partnership, especially in the nursing department. This is a vital component of our recruitment efforts," Hyde said.
In a statement from Marketing and Public Relations Director Lindsay Huhman, CRMC congratulated the LU School of Nursing on its anniversary "as they celebrate 50 years, educating, mentoring, training, and cultivating health care professionals, many of whom serve and have served in our community. Capital Region Medical Center has long supported the LU School of Nursing providing training and experience through nursing clinicals. CRMC has been a strong supporter of the LU School of Nursing scholarship programs and is proud to contribute to the nursing program which provides outstanding opportunities. CRMC is proud and humbled to be a part of the LU School of Nursing celebration. As a community, we are blessed to have this caliber of education available right here at home."
Both hospitals support LU's nursing program by providing access for students to do their clinical experiences and by continuing to jointly fund five part-time clinical faculty positions each year — one per each cohort.
Other area hospitals where students get clinical experience include Fulton State Hospital, the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital, Boone Hospital and University Hospital, McSwain said.
McSwain worked at St. Mary's Hospital for 24 years.
"Growing your own in the community, I think, is a good thing because our younger generation gets to see that they too can be a nurse," she said. "We have several that move away and eventually come back. But when our students go to the clinical study and they're seeing other Lincoln University nurses who have been a nurse for how many years, maybe they've traveled a little bit and came back, it is an inspiration."
Several LU nursing school alumni have gone on to become physicians, nurse practitioners and educators, she added.
Above all, though, "there's a culture of protecting our community and making sure that students that graduate, that become nurses, that we would be OK with them taking care of our family members. I think that's important; regardless of who's sitting in the leader's chair, that's always been important," McSwain said.
She said Monroe — the first leader of LU's nursing school — would be honored at Saturday's gala. The gala was also a fundraising opportunity for the nursing school's scholarship program, which Henry said includes a scholarship in Monroe's name.
Awards were also to be given to outstanding alumni who work at St. Mary's Hospital and CRMC.
Henry and her brother Michael live in Jefferson City but said their out-of-town family — also including three great-grandchildren of Monroe — would be at the gala. She added her family could not be more appreciative of celebrating the nursing program and their grandmother.
This article was edited at 10:15 a.m. Nov. 4, 2019, to correct the year of Helen Monroe's death.