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  • 100-Year-Old Nurse Shares Memories of McKennan’s Nursing School

Published on October 03, 2012

100-Year-Old Nurse Shares Memories of McKennan’s Nursing School

SIOUX FALLS (Oct. 1, 2012) - While living on a modest wage of $5 a week and working long hours under strict rules, young Lorraine Kirchen Stein still thought attending nursing school at McKennan Hospital back in 1933 was a privilege. “Oh I had friends that were nurses and I just thought they knew everything,” laughs Lorraine. I wanted to be like them.”

Lorraine Stein

A born and raised Catholic, making the choice to attend nurses training at the McKennan Hospital School of Nursing was an easy one for Lorraine. But that was all that would be easy.  She soon found out the realities of nursing school.  “The Sisters were very strict, but they were always honest and fair,” adds Lorraine, who is now retired and resides in California. But her early days in Sioux Falls certainly left an impression. 

At the early hour of 7 a.m., a typical day for a McKennan Hospital nursing student involved both class time and working with patients. “We worked for our tuition,” says Lorraine. “That’s how they did things back then.” After being assigned their patients, the young students had lunch and immediately returned to the floor. Later, they attended a few hours of class before finishing up with their patients. “Our day ended when your patients were fed, settled and comfortable, this sometimes pushed into the late evening hours.” 

Lorraine even recalls working with Mother Raphael McCarthy, a noteworthy woman whose leadership roles within the hospital during the early years included serving as Mother Superior, hospital president, CEO and administrator. “This was during the Depression, and that woman knew how to fix a cheap meal,” she laughs. 

Before graduating from the two-year program, Lorraine would have weathered long hours and strict rules to obtain her degree, but harder times were still ahead for the young nurse. After receiving additional training to specialize in obstetrics, she would eventually live to tell about the polio and flu pandemics, the Great Depression and a world war.     

But intense as it sounds, Lorraine speaks very fondly of her life as a nurse, especially her early years training at McKennan Hospital with her fellow classmates.“I know it’s been 80 years, but I often wonder about the girls I went to school with,” she quietly adds. While she may never know those answers, one thing she is sure about is her decision to become a nurse. “It was challenging but I remember being very happy. I’ve had quite a life and it would never have been possible without my education at McKennan Hospital School of Nursing. My life is complete.” 

Just as nursing care has changed over the past century, so have the requirements to become a nurse. Pressures to improve nursing education escalated, and in 1965, the Presentation Sisters announced that it would discontinue its program at McKennan in Sioux Falls. Thus, the McKennan Hospital School of Nursing, which had been in existence since 1911 and graduated over 1,000 nurses, shut its doors in 1968. However, Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center continues to be a site for future nurses from local schools who wish to gain clinical and professional experience.