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Jeannette Sheppard: Healing and helping

July 14, 2010
By DIANE CHASE, Special to the Enterprise

Jeannette Sheppard speaks softly about her lifelong passion for nursing.

"I always wanted to be a nurse. I don't know why," she said. "I just like to take care of people. At times, it was trying. Starting out with obstetrics gave me my start but as I got older I wanted to get more experience in other areas. I especially liked the medical aspect of nursing."

"Being cared for shouldn't be a traumatic experience. It should be seamless," she states about the nursing profession. "You have to be extremely caring and careful.

Article Photos

Jeannette Sheppard reflects on a nurse’s life
(Photo —?Diane Chase)

"I received my training at the Champlain Valley Hospital in Plattsburgh. Interestingly enough they are celebrating their 100th year. They merged with Physicians Hospital to form CVPH. Champlain Valley was the original hospital and had a three-year nursing program that is now part of the SUNY system at Plattsburgh. In 1943 when I started, the war was on and the hospital was part of the Cadet Nursing Corp that Roosevelt had started to get more people interested in nursing."

Just after Jeannette graduated from high school, President Roosevelt creating the Cadet Nurse Corps by signing the Nurse Training Act. The Corps provided accelerated training, tuition and associated expenses for nursing students to alleviate a nursing shortage during World War II.

"We were told that if there was a war or the war continued we would be obligated to serve, unless we were married," she said. "If there was a crisis somewhere we would have gone. I don't think any of my class was called up though. I had already decided to go into a career in nursing. This just helped make it happen. Back then it wasn't as expensive. We worked for our room and board. We were put right on the floor after a six-month probation. We didn't get summers off from school and worked all year-round for a three-year program."

Her first nursing job was in 1946 in Troy. Working in the maternity ward, Jeannette remembers how new mothers were given up to 10 days hospital rest after having a child. Now, new mothers can be discharged the next day.

"When my first husband, Bill Davis, got out of the service he went to school in Troy and then received a job offer here," she said. "He was in a new field, refrigeration and air conditioning repair. There wasn't a lot of work for him back then."

She admits that it was a bit of a struggle when she and her husband first moved to the area. There was not as much "call for air conditioning repair" then as there is now. After a brief stint with private care nursing jobs Jeannette started working in the maternity ward of the then Saranac Lake General Hospital, located where North Country Community College now stands. Well ahead of her time, Jeannette spent the next 20 years in a full-time nursing career while raising her two daughters. When the new facility was built overlooking Lake Colby, Jeannette continued nursing but switched to a medical field and eventually becoming the day supervisor at Adirondack Medical Center (AMC).

She reflects on the changes in the healthcare industry during her lifetime especially in regards to electronics. She had to adapt, take seminars and college courses out of Plattsburgh to keep herself up to date. She compliments the Adirondack Medical Center with providing good in-service classes for their staff.

"I've seen a lot of changes through working in the hospital," she said. "Electronics came in. We never had cardiac care or dialysis. Patient care became a lot more complicated."

She retired from AMC after a 42 year career. She and Bill had planned on spending winters in Florida and summers on Rainbow Lake. Bill passed on after they had started their first year of retirement. With their plan cut short Jeannette forged ahead with the support of her family. She filled her time volunteering with the Saranac Lake Voluntary Health Association (SLVHA) and High Peaks Hospice.

Jeannette remained a board member of SLVHA for more than 30 years. SLVHA, a not-for-profit organization established in 1897 provides health-care services such as a visiting nurse, elementary school dental hygienist, local healthcare scholarships and internships as well as loans of medical equipment. Recently Voluntary Health named a scholarship being awarded at North Country Community College in her honor.

"I am humbled that Voluntary Health would name one of their scholarships for me. It is a great honor," Jeannette says. "I think Voluntary Health is one of the best organizations we have in the area. They pay for the elementary dental hygienist. Most schools back in the '80s were dropping their dental program. The school was going to drop it here so that is how Voluntary Health got involved. They have done extraordinary dental work for children and now have branched out to adult care."

When Jeannette started working for High Peaks Hospice the group was small and just becoming established. Jeannette would go into the home, making the terminal patient comfortable, relieving families of the day-to-day stress of caring for a loved one. She discusses the importance of having an objective person coming into the home when everything else is possibly in turmoil.

"Nursing is a very rewarding career," she said. "You get a lot of satisfaction taking care of people. My last five years of working I worked for Hospice. The people and families I met were so nice and appreciated any assistance."

She met her current husband, Robert Sheppard, when she was 13. He was a friend of the family. They reconnected and continued a long-distance relationship until Robert finally moved to Saranac Lake.

"His wife had passed on as well," she raises her eyebrows. "He found out I was a widow and he searched me out. When we were married we were going back and forth from Ohio to here when we decided to get married in the Adirondacks. Now I have sons and daughters."

Now her combined family consists of Robert's three boys, her two daughters and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her two daughters still live locally, one in Lake Clear and the other in Bloomingdale.

"One thing that has happened since I've been at Adirondacks Medical Center is dialysis," she said. "My husband Robert has been going for the past 10 years.

"Do you know Caper Tissot? She wrote a book interviewing all us ladies," she grins. "While Robert would have dialysis the ladies would have lunch. It was called the library group. We ate lunch at the Hotel Saranac and then went to the library every Thursday. Caper was part of the group and then decided to write down our stories."

History Between the Lines, Women's Lives and Saranac Lake Customs by Caperton Tissot chronicles the lives of a group of women who called themselves "The Library Ladies." Jeannette's story is told alongside her friends, tying life with events and local history.

Jeannette talks about her love for the Adirondacks and the change of seasons, being outdoors. She doesn't get out the same as she used to but she remembers fondly the times she would fish, take walks and go on hikes.

"We fished a lot. I enjoyed it. We would go to Canada and catch walleye. I don't fish anymore. We would go to Marten River in North Bay. I love picnicking, boating and just being outdoors," she smiles. "It is all part of living here."



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