This weekend, graduates of the Methodist-Kahler School of Nursing, a school that shuttered nearly a half-century ago, will gather this weekend in Rochester to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its founding.
Though the school closed in 1970, amid a nationwide shift in educational standards for registered nurses, its alumni association stayed active through the decades, sustained by pride and a strong sense of identification graduates had for the school.
The nursing school encompassed a different era — or eras — in its lifetime.
Class reunions have been held in the past, but this will be the first all-school reunion, said Vaunette Alrick, an M-K graduate from the class of 1968.
“We had an entirely different experience than any college could have now,” Alrick said. “We lived in dorms. We had dorm mothers. We had curfews. It was a different time.”
The school was founded in 1918, near the end of World War I, when many nurses were sent overseas to tend to America’s war wounded. Rochester, a rural community of 12,000, one-tenth of the size it is today, struggled to provide an adequate supply of registered nurses to Rochester hospitals.
Through the years, the school would undergo a baffling number of name changes as the Rochester health care industry restructured. A total of 3,827 women and men graduated from the program over the 52-year life of the school.
More than 325 graduates, nearly 10 percent of the school’s total, have registered for the two-day celebration, including an alum who graduated from the class of 1938. The reunion will be hosted at the Canadian Honker Event Center Kahler-Apache.
Alrick graduated from the school in 1968, two years before the school closed. The school program was 36 months long. Most of Alrick’s education took place at Rochester Methodist Hospital, but there was also obstetrics training in Chicago, pediatric experiences in the Twin Cities and psychiatric nursing at Rochester State Hospital. Graduates earned a diploma, not a degree.
“None of us, when we graduated, had degrees in nursing,” Alrick said, though many would go on to earn advanced nursing degrees. “At that time, we were diploma nurses. We were really proud of the fact that we could do bedside nursing.
“We didn’t have a college degree, but we probably had more education as far as nursing goes, because that’s what our focus was on,” she added
Methodist-Kahler and other diploma-based schools closed as standards changed and nurses were expected to graduate with college degrees.
But its alumni kept the school’s legacy alive. In 2010, a Methodist-Kahler Nursing Scholarship was established, and its first scholarship was awarded in 2014. It is now given annually by the Mayo Clinic Department of Nursing.
“When the school closed, there was sadness,” Alrick said. “Who is going to teach these nurses how to take care of the patients? We were the ones who knew how to do it. It was that kind of (feeling).”