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College of Nursing Alumni Visiting history center

50 years later: Alumni reflect on valuable education, good times during History Center tour

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Written by Debra Melani on June 25, 2019

What do you get when you put three alumni — all best friends in nursing school— together in the Nursing History Center? A trip down memory lane, of course.

In the 1960s, when Dorothy “Batton” Smith, Carol Campagna and Martha “Leahy” Staker were 20-something college students working toward MSN degrees, few nurses were continuing on to graduate school.

So the promising trio all attended the University of Colorado Nursing School on full federal grants, with even a little spending cash leftover for “Ripple wine and tuna fish,” one said, as the others burst out laughing.

But the government had one catch: “We had to sign a promise that we would stay in the field of nursing for the rest of our lives,” Staker said.

Fun and reflection were on the agenda for the three women who gathered in Colorado from their points around the country (Virginia, Michigan, Missouri) for a mini-college reunion. They contacted another friend from those earlier days: CU Nursing Professor Marilyn Krajicek, EdD, who invited them to tour the Nursing History Center.

A half-century look back

“I met Carol in the laundry room of my apartment building 51 years ago,” Krajicek said, placing an emphasis on 51. Krajicek recently surpassed her 50-year anniversary working with the University of Colorado.

Her three friends, who all earned their MSN degrees from CU Nursing in 1969, had no problem fulfilling their signed promises, also going on to have exceptional careers with significant contributions to the profession.

“This degree gave us the ability to do anything we wanted to do,” Staker said. “All three of us went in different directions,” she said, underscoring the career diversity nursing degrees offer.

Three alumni, three distinguished careers

Staker served as assistant research professor within the School of Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center. There, she led Project EAGLE community programs, focused on brightening vulnerable children’s futures by opening doors for them and their families.

Staker has managed more than $6 million in program grants annually that enhance the lives of at-risk children and has worked with the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation on issues related to the moral development of children. She also served as president and CEO of the Children’s Campus of Kansas City.

Campagna, professor emeritus, retired from Lake Superior State University in Michigan after a notable career, which included developing a four-year, baccalaureate-nursing program. During retirement in Sault Ste Marie, Campagna remains involved in fundraising for the only free of charge Hospice Home in Michigan.

Smith credits her graduate advisor Ginny Carozza’s inspiration for her own publishing success, which included serving as editor of two nursing journals and writing three books and 150 articles and book chapters.

As a clinical nurse specialist at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center for most of her career, Smith developed the Enterostomal Therapy program with an American Cancer Society grant. She is an American Academy of Nursing fellow.

Trio savors private 50-year reunion

The three women — who had already visited Larimer Square, sought out (and found) the places they used to live in during college, and stopped at their go-to college hangout: the College Inn — reminisced in the History Center about their favorite CU Nursing instructors.

“Our class was blessed to be taught by true legends and leaders,” Campagna said, recalling Mildred Montag, Madeleine Leininger, Katherine Kelly, Judy Kiernan and Sue Huether.

“They taught us how to learn,” Smith said, explaining that their teaching went well beyond rote learning. “And they taught us to keep growing, to keep learning,” she said.

Staker noted that Thomas Starzl was pioneering dialysis and transplants at the university during their time here. Starzl performed the first-ever successful liver transplant in 1967.

“It’s really special to be back here,” Staker said, as her friends nodded agreement. “Our time at CU will be treasured forever,” Campagna said.

Topics: Alumni