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The last class - Part 3 of 3
Former practical nursing graduates reunite
Nursing III Pic 2 Three Generations
Three generations of ATEC nursing students, Beverly Cassady, Doris Gainey and Catherine Sanman, attend ATECs first class reunion. Director Sharon Clyburn decided that a class reunion for every graduating class, from 1965 to 1968, would be a nice way to celebrate the history of the practical nursing program. 2012 is the last class of practical nursing students. - photo by Miciah Bennett

Kershaw County has produced its own licensed practical nurses (LPNs) for 47 years. 

From 1965 to 1967, Kershaw County Memorial Hospital directed an LPN program. From 1968 until this year, the Applied Technology Education Campus (ATEC) taught local citizens to devote themselves to the welfare of those committed to their care. On May 24, ATEC graduated its last class of practical nurses.

Thursday, practical nursing graduates from 1965 to 2012 congratulated each other, Kershaw County’s local practical nursing program, and commemorated the quality of nurses ATEC has produced since 1968 at their first class reunion since Kershaw County transitioned from a Registered Nurse program to the LPN program in 1965. 

At the reunion were three generations of nurses: Catherine Sanman, class of 2002; Beverly Cassady 1986; and Doris Gainey, class of 1971 who is also a former ATEC teacher. Gainey said she was “so proud, I didn’t know what to do” when she saw her daughter and granddaughter show interest in the nursing program. Gainey even taught Sanman, her grandaughter, in Phase II of Sanman’s program. Sanman currently works at Camden Heart Care, Cassady works for TriCounty Hospice, and Gainey has retired from teaching at Central Carolina Technology College (CCTC).

Gainey was married with six kids when she entered ATEC’s program; her daughter also had a family when she started her program.

“It’s sad the program is closing because it is so convenient, especially the way I did it with kids,” Cassady said. 

Gainey, who has a master’s in nursing, expressed the same sentiment as her daughter, but said she believes CCTC can “pick up the slack.”

During the reunion, Betty Sue Webber, ATEC director from 1992 to 1996, said she had seen three nurses in the room who work at her doctor’s office that she didn’t realize were ATEC graduates.  

Brenda Bradley, class of 1986, and Cheryl Fiorella Gillespie, class of 1980, sat together at the ATEC reunion. Bradley and Gillespie met in a motorcycle association and realized the were both graduates of ATEC’s nursing program. 

“I would encourage everyone to continue their education,” Gillespie said. “I graduated from my RN program when I was 57. You are never too old.”

She is now retired while Bradley works for Amedisys Home Health in Camden. 

Bradley said there doesn’t seem to be a lot of LPN positions, but the industry needs more practical nurses. 

All ATEC graduates were honored with the presence of Margaret Cameron, 93, one of the first graduates of Kershaw County’s LPN program in 1965. Cameron was 45 when she started her nursing program. She worked in pediatrics for 15 years and worked on other floors for two years after she graduated from the program. Cameron said her husband pusher her to do the program just in case something should happen to him. 

“So many many people have come up to me and told me what a great nurse she was,” said Cameron’s daughter, Joyce McDonald, Kershaw County’s clerk of court. 

“They were so good to me,” Cameron said. “I enjoyed it all. When a doctor tells you you’ve done well, you really feel like you’ve done something.”

2012 graduate Jauckline Harrell summed up the feelings in the room when she ended her graduate reflection with the Trace Adkins song, “You’re Going To Miss This.” 

“You're gonna miss this. You're gonna want this back. You're gonna wish these days hadn't gone by so fast....” she said to the group of about 250. 

During an interview following her own graduation a week earlier, Harrell said the practicality of Phase II of the program has been one of the most “eye-opening experiences” she has ever had. Phase II, where students spend most of their week in the hospital, is the part of the program that really gives students confidence in the skills they learned in the classroom, she said. 

Vernessa Cook, class of 1985, said she is disappointed to see the LPN program at ATEC close; she said she had hopes that it would branch into an RN program again.

“It was such a wonderful program for people who couldn’t travel far for school. It gave Kershaw County residents an opportunity,” said Cook, who currently works for Blue Cross Blue Shield. 

Although the program reunited young and old, they all praised the work of ATEC’s nursing director, Sharon Clyburn.

Clyburn, who has been with ATEC for 35 years, recognized the late Gill Woolard, ATEC’ first director, who was represented by his wife Betty, who was an instructor at ATEC. Clyburn also recognized Webber, Allen Teal and Chet Horton, as well as various assistant directors. And she recognized previous nursing instructors and students for the impact they have had on her life.

When the school district decided to close ATEC’s nursing program, Clyburn said they decided to do a reunion after juggling a few other ideas. 

“God has really blessed me with this job. This door was opened for me and I was able to stay for 35 years” she said. “I’ve had a lot of family support; my husband, Louis Clyburn, has been right by my side, as well as my children. It’s been a family affair.”

Throughout the years, with changes in technology and increases in tuition, Clyburn has remained very traditional although she did show some leniency this school year, she said. 

“When I walk into a hospital, I want to be able to tell immediately who is a nurse. There is not a day that has gone by when someone didn’t stop me and say, ‘I can always tell who your nurses are.’ Our nurses have become registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, and certified registered nurse anesthetists. I am proud off all of them,” she said.

Clyburn said she was “sick” when she learned the nursing program would close. Although she was set to retire last school year, she stayed one more year to close the program

“I just hate to see it close,” Clyburn said, with tears in her eyes. “Kershaw County has been so blessed since the ’20s. Now we will have to depend on nurses from other schools and other areas.

“I always tell my nurses that if you lose your love for nursing, take a break and greet at Wal-Mart, but don’t take care of patients when you don’t love what you are doing.”