Gloria Smokvina and Carolyn Fetsch-Sojka believe they are part of lasting sisterhood formed at a young age and born of close ties and challenges as students at the former St. Margaret Hospital School of Nursing.
Now, decades hence, they are among the most active members as officers of the school’s Nurse Alumni Association, formed in 1925, which remains alive and well, despite the Hammond school’s closing in 1967. It opened in 1919 at 30 Clinton St. and graduated 780 students during that timeframe.
Smokvina, association treasurer, finished studies in the three-year program in 1959. She subsequently spent a 45-year career working in emergency rooms and intensive care and surgical units, before going into academia, ultimately obtaining a doctorate degree and ending her career as dean of the School of Nursing at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond.
Fetsch-Sojka, the group’s secretary, who graduated in 1960, spent a 37-year career in pediatrics units. Both reside in unincorporated St. John Township.
“All of us went through so much as students,” Fetsch Sojka said, alluding to the school’s regimented and demanding program, which the nurses believe made them better in their profession.
“We all grew up together and formed relationships through living together and working together. We had long hours of working and studying hard. There was little time for fun, but we had it when we could,” she added.
Added Smokvina, “(Association members) have just remained friends; it doesn’t matter if there’s a 10- or 15-year absence. It is a sisterhood.”
Members formally gather twice annually – at a memorial mass for deceased colleagues at Franciscan St. Margaret Health-Hammond in October, which this year was co-chaired by Marge Bach and Elaine Doerr Fechalos, both 1960 graduates.
The alums also were reunited at a banquet in April, which was run by Fetsch-Sojka and Smokvina, where the association donates funds it has raised through dues, the banquet and its raffle prizes and through members’ donations, to The Catherine McAuley Clinic in Hammond, which provides health care and referral services to underprivileged area residents.
Smokvina said about $38,000 has been presented to McAuley, since it opened in 1996. Prior to that time, donations were made to Franciscan St. Margaret, which runs the clinic. The association, at the latest banquet, received a plaque saluting its services on behalf of McAuley from Tony Englert, regional executive director of the Franciscan Alliance Foundation.
Despite its aging, somewhat diminishing and scattered alumnae, the association has a 270-person mailing list and attracts scores of members to its events.
“We have members from classes from the ‘40s. And some members still donate $100 or $200 to be used for the donations,” Smokvina said. “This, despite the fact many are on fixed incomes.”
It all stems from a bond sealed long ago.
“When we’re together, it’s fun. We talk about old times, our families and remember the crazy things we did. There’s a lot of laughing,” Smokvina added.