Pioneering nurse’s family honors her with scholarship
Kathryn Olliff’s Approach to Life is like one of her trademark needlework pieces — vibrant in color, intricate in detail and imbued with happiness, hope or comfort — lovingly created to be given away.
The war years were hard times for her family in Baxley, Georgia. “I didn’t get to go to college, so I took a business course, and I was sitting in Baxley keeping books for an automobile parts place,” Kathryn said.
It was then that she heard about a federal program to attract young women to careers in nursing.
“A friend came to me and said there was a nursing program in Atlanta and they pay you to go there,” she explained. “This was in 1944. So when I called my parents I still remember my mother being worried, but, my father said, ‘Go for it, girl!’”
She didn’t know it then, but she was to ride atop a wave of pioneering, highlytrained nurses who would change the profession. “The government, during the war, realized how much was needed for war nurses’ training,” said Kathryn’s daughter Claire. “If you applied for it, they would fund these students and so schools started training programs.”
After graduation, Kathryn settled in Statesboro and took on a variety of assignments in the years that followed from the operating room to neonatal unit, private duty home care to physician’s office.
Along the way she met and married her husband, Ed, with whom she shared her life for 51 years. “It was great growing up with a mother who was a nurse because she never panicked,” said Claire. “My father was healthy for a long time, but when he was not, she was wonderful to him. For five years he was very ill and she nursed him and had that patience and those skills and that was wonderful to watch.”
Today, she generously volunteers her time for causes that enhance the lives of others: the Boys and Girls Club, the Averitt Center for the Arts, the Statesboro-Bulloch Chamber of Commerce, the Spade and Trowel Garden Club, local schools, and her church, among others.
Recently, Claire and her husband, Ben, began to think about what her mother might like for a birthday present. “Turning 90 is kind of a milestone birthday for anybody,” said Claire. “What would we want to get her for a 90th birthday? I think what is needed is to do for somebody else.”
They chose to make a six-figure total gift across 10 years to Georgia Southern’s School of Nursing that the School will distribute to students as needs arise. Kathryn could not have been more pleased.
Georgia’s lottery-funded HOPE scholarship covers tuition, but not books, meals, housing or other expenses. “With the high costs of books, living and travel expenses, many HOPE scholars still need financial support to help them through a rigorous nurse’s education,” said Claire. “I have heard it can sometimes mean the difference between staying in school or not.”
In the end, said Claire, “The University has been very connected to our family and there’s a nursing school here — and Mother has always said nursing changed her life.”
The Bowens’ gift in Kathryn’s honor will change the lives of future nurses, and ultimately, those of their patients.