Sisters Ruth Ruddle Dolly and Betty Ruddle Heavner grew up in Franklin, W.Va., during the first half of the 20th century. A desire to learn and to care for others, however, led both women away from home to Harrisonburg and the RMH School of Nursing.
Ruth borrowed money to attend nursing school, according to her daughter, Louise Dolly Cook.
“Very early on my mother set her sights on what she wanted, and this was her pathway to something better for herself,” Louise explains.
Betty did the same, following her sister’s example. After graduating, Ruth worked as an obstetric nurse and also in the dental office of her husband, Frank, while Betty worked as a nurse for more than 20 years in four different states.
The RMH School of Nursing began operation in 1912—when Rockingham Memorial Hospital opened its doors—and continued operating until 1977, producing more than a thousand well-trained nurses like Ruth and Betty, who graduated in 1945 and 1956, respectively. The sisters were proud of their education and the training they received in Harrisonburg.
“My aunt said she was always well trained, no matter where she went,” notes Louise.
After Ruth passed away in 2012, Louise wanted to find a way to honor her mother’s memory. Having attended several RMH School of Nursing alumni events with her mother, she knew Sentara RMH offered scholarships for its nurse employees. “My mother stayed in touch with her classmates,” says Louise.
“I thought about it and decided a scholarship just seemed a very natural thing to do.”
So Louise established the Ruth Ruddle Dolly and Betty Ruddle Heavner Endowed Fund Benefitting the Institute of Nursing Excellence in memory of her mother and in honor of her aunt, who still lives in the Harrisonburg area with her husband, George.
Supporting Continuing Education for Nursing Excellence
The RMH Foundation began raising funds for nursing scholarships for Sentara RMH nurses in 2004, and the Alumni Association was instrumental in the effort, according to Sherrill K. Glanzer, senior development officer for the Foundation. “In 2014 we expanded the program—into what is now the Institute of Nursing Excellence—with a goal of having 80 percent of our nurses obtain a bachelor of science degree in nursing, or BSN, by 2020,” says Glanzer. “Happily, we are on track to meet that goal.”
Though the RMH School of Nursing closed more than 40 years ago, many of the nurses who trained there still care for the patients of Sentara RMH today, and the focus on nursing excellence continues. More than 200 Sentara RMH nurses have received scholarships, with much of the financial assistance coming from significant donations from the community and gifts from people such as Louise.
Endowments like the one Louise established are gifts that keep giving in perpetuity, according to Glanzer. The principal gift is invested, and each year a portion of the annual returns goes to the designated area of the hospital.
Glanzer notes that investing in the nurses of Sentara RMH directly benefits patient care, and rewarding nurses with necessary funds for continuing their education helps the hospital attract and retain exceptional nursing talent. Partly for that reason, Sentara RMH is best in class systemwide in patient outcomes like mortality, length of stay and complications from surgery, she says.
“There is a direct correlation between the education level of a nurse and patient outcomes in these areas,” adds Glanzer.
Nurses are required to keep working at Sentara RMH while they continue their studies. “It’s pretty amazing how dedicated our nurses are to their education,” Glanzer says. “They do it because it benefits their patients.”
Louise hopes the scholarships give Sentara RMH nurses the extra boost they need to continue their studies and better themselves, just like Ruth and Betty did. While Ruth eventually moved away from nursing to work on business ventures with her husband, Frank, she never lost her love for her profession. When Louise had her fourth baby at age 45, her mother moved to Texas to help her out.
“She was glowing,” Louise remembers. “She was truly in her element feeding, bathing and taking care of the baby. She was always a nurse, even when she wasn’t working as a nurse. When I became a mother, I realized what a good mother she was. She was special in part because she was a nurse, and she taught us so much.”
After her mother’s passing, Louise got a second mother in Betty, who had helped care for her when she was a baby. “After my mother passed away, my aunt stepped in as a surrogate mom, even though she has her own children and activities,” says Louise. “She is always on the other end of the phone for me when I need her.”
According to Louise, her parents made many gifts to hospitals, including RMH, and to other organizations. “They’re the ones who set the example for me with their giving,” she notes.
She hopes her gift will spur others to do the same.
“The endowment was a way to honor Mom and Betty,” she says. “I’m sorry I couldn’t have done it during my mother’s lifetime, but somehow I think she knows anyway.”
If you would like to support nursing scholarships at Sentara RMH, please contact Sherrill Glanzer, RMH Foundation, at 540-689-8542 firstname.lastname@example.org