A day of goodbyes

·2 min read

Oct. 6—LIMA — It was a bittersweet day for graduates of the old St. Rita's Nursing School: Mercy Health-St. Rita's on Wednesday invited nursing school alumni back for one last reunion in the place that started their medical careers before the building is demolished in 2022.

"It was a great education," said Linda Hovest, a 1971 graduate. "It was the memories and the relationships that we still have."

Hovest spent 45 years working as a nurse for St. Rita's after graduating from the nursing school, eventually becoming a nursing director. The oldest of 10 children, Hovest was already accustomed to caring for others. And "back then, you were either a secretary, you got married or you were a nurse," she said.

The nursing school was originally founded in a small house on Baxter Street by the Sisters of Mercy when St. Rita's opened in 1918.

The home provided just enough space for the nursing school's single student at the time. But as the program grew, St. Rita's eventually built a School of Nursing to house and train its nursing students. The campus was home to housing quarters and classrooms, complete with recreational areas, an assembly hall and other amenities needed for students.

Some 109 students enrolled that first summer in 1961, but the campus was closed 10 years later when St. Rita's partnered with Lima Technical College to train nurses.

The space was then converted into physician offices, conference space and a hospitality house, which became known as the 718 Building. Mercy Health will tear down the building in 2022 to make room for future expansion projects, although there are no specific plans for the space yet.

Living in such close quarters with their classmates led to strong bonds between alumni, many of whom went on to become colleagues at St. Rita's, making Wednesday's commemoration ceremony all the more bittersweet.

For Mary Lou Paxton and Barbara Paul, both 1966 graduates of the nursing school, the education was the start of a decades-long friendship that included 15 years working together in the intensive care unit.

"Everything goes back to the education," Paxton said. "Not only the education but the spirit."

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