Andrew Dys

Smiles, tears after 50 years

Nine graduates of the York County Hospital School of Nursing graduating class of 1956 enjoyed a reunion in Rock Hill on Thursday. The women are standing in the order matching their graduation photo taken in 1956. Pictured from left in both pictures with maiden names in parentheses: Janie (Lowry) Mixon; Margie Smart; Minnie (McNeill) Epting; Maxine (Holsclaw) Bond; Barbara (Coleman) Slemp; Betty Jean (Caskey) Whitley, holding the graduation photo; Sarah (Beane) Riggins; Martha (Melton) Faulkenberry Barfield; Jean (Barfield) Kranz.
Nine graduates of the York County Hospital School of Nursing graduating class of 1956 enjoyed a reunion in Rock Hill on Thursday. The women are standing in the order matching their graduation photo taken in 1956. Pictured from left in both pictures with maiden names in parentheses: Janie (Lowry) Mixon; Margie Smart; Minnie (McNeill) Epting; Maxine (Holsclaw) Bond; Barbara (Coleman) Slemp; Betty Jean (Caskey) Whitley, holding the graduation photo; Sarah (Beane) Riggins; Martha (Melton) Faulkenberry Barfield; Jean (Barfield) Kranz.

Thursday afternoon, 50 years to the day since the last time all nine had been together in the same room on graduation day, the York County Hospital School of Nursing graduating class of 1956 giggled like school girls.

A million stories were swapped. Almost all were true.

Photos of children and grandchildren circulated around the table. Many of the nine had married, and a few had become widows. Some last names now are different, but everybody used maiden names like it was 1956.

Jean Whitley was Betty "Jean" Caskey again for the first time in decades.

Janie Mixon became Janie Lowry again. Margie was Smart. Minnie was McNeill. Maxine was Holsclaw. Barbara was Coleman. Sarah was Beane. Martha was Melton. Jean was Barfield.

Magic.

"We laughed so much, especially about how we wore those white starched uniforms and the nursing caps," said Martha Melton, now Martha Barfield by marriage. "Some of us, we hadn't seen some of the others even once. My, it was wonderful."

The school, a three-year program that trained nurses mainly the old-fashioned way -- on the job -- was open from 1941 to 1961. The hospital, long-gone now, was on Ebenezer Road. Students took science classes at Winthrop College, and hospital doctors and nursing professionals taught the practical work. All students worked in the hospital. The women lived in a dormitory-style building nearby called the nurse's home. There was a housemother by the name of Violet Anderson, deceased now, who ran a tight ship. A lady so respected, revered even, that a tiny street not far away is called Vian Court.

Proper attire

This was the 1950s. Sign in, sign out, no men where men aren't supposed to be, proper dress all the time. For three years, these nine girls turned into women together.

"We were like sisters, really," Mixon said. "We ate together, slept together, lived together and received our training together."

Some of the stories, the old secrets and almost-forgotten gems, brought belly laughs and blushing red cheeks. Whitley shared the story of how a doctor named Robert Patton gave her and roommate Barbara Coleman haircuts on a slow 3 to 11 p.m. night shift in the hospital's baby delivery room.

"But we forgot to clean up the hair," Whitley said. "We heard about it that next morning. Early. It didn't happen again. And we never got another free haircut."

After graduation, everybody went to work. A few of the nine stayed in York County, and others went off to places such as Columbia and North Carolina. Most stayed in touch, but for some reason all nine never had gotten together.

Whitley organized the reunion.

Bill Whitley was allowed in the house because it's his house. He stayed out of the way. Sarah Riggins' husband was allowed in because she had two knee replacements just weeks ago and needed a driver. The husband stayed out of the way, too.

All other men were not invited.

This was a ladies' day.

"For four hours, we were young again," said Margie Smart of Clover.

All nine held hands and prayed together before the cheesecake and the coffee.

The tears started to fall as they prayed. The hands clasped together, knuckles turning red, then white as fingers squeezed tighter.

Before nine septuagenarians parted ways, Mixon had something to say to the group:

"Let's not wait another 50 years."

All agreed.

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