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Doris Mesenbrink: Passing on a passion for nursing

Doris Mesenbrink: Passing on a passion for nursing

More than 70 years ago, a young woman from Rochester, Wis., moved to Oak Park to follow her dream to become a nurse.

It was the mid 1930s when the country was between World Wars and still reeling from the Stock Market Crash. Postage stamps cost 3 cents. It was the decade of the New Deal, FDR's fireside chats, The Wizard of Oz. You may remember Amelia Earhart, The Green Hornet, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.

Doris Kurtz was this young woman. The oldest of 10 children, she had wanted to be a nurse for as long as she could remember. She enrolled at the West Suburban Hospital School of Nursing after she met a nurse "who could fit her hat in a white envelope". She was determined to get her training but not entirely sure how she would pay for it.

During her student years she worked as a waitress for $1 a day, but earned even more in tips. To keep that fact from her boss, she went across the street to the filling station to cash in her coins for paper bills.

There she met a dashing young man named Paul Mesenbrink. They fell in love and secretly wed in 1938 because nursing students weren't allowed to marry back then. Why the rush? Paul had offered to pay her tuition and Doris didn't feel right about accepting such a generous obligation without being married. "We didn't set up house or anything until after graduation," she said.

After Doris graduated in 1939, the couple moved to Lake Forest where she returned the favor and worked while Paul went to school. He became a tool and dye maker, and they were married for 61 years.

Her 54-year career included work in hospitals, doctor's offices and private duty patients. Many of her patients still keep in touch. "I recently received a gift from one of them who was a baby 41 years ago," she said.

Fast forward to 2006. Doris Kurtz Mesenbrink, RN, Class of 1939, aware of the current nursing shortage and relishing her own nursing school memories, decides to help students who may not be able to afford the training.

With a generous gift of $10,000, she established the Kurtz Mesenbrink Endowed Scholarship to provide tuition for one undergraduate nursing student each year.

"Nursing has been important since I was a little girl," she said. "My husband knew how important it was to me and helped me finish school. Without his support I couldn't have done what I did. So I wanted to do something for somebody else. I wanted to help somebody."

In 2007, West Suburban College honored Doris with the Friend of Nursing Award. She received this award for establishing a permanent tribute to undergraduate nursing scholarship - and for passing on to the next generation her passion for nursing.

A charitable gift annuity is a fast and simple way to make a gift today and still enjoy a lifetime income. For more information, contact Moira McGinley, Presence Health Foundation Office of Gift Planning Services, at 312-308-3244.

Call 877-RES-INFO for Nurse Advice, Doctor Referrals or Class Registration Monday - Friday 8 am to 8 pm • Weekends 8 am to 4pm

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