A Nurse Once and Always

May 3, 2021

St. Boniface Hospital Foundation donor Barbara McGregor is quick to share memories from her career as a nurse – many fond, some sad, all with the keen perspective of her 96 years.

McGregor entered St. Boniface Hospital’s School of Nursing in 1942 as a teenager.

“I liked science and math,” said she said of her start in the field. “And the Hospital was short of nurses because of World War II.”

Her education included three years of residence in the Nursing building under the instruction of the Grey Nuns.

“It was lights out at 10:30.”

Duties for the student nurses were many and varied.

“We did everything from squeezing oranges for juice to emptying the bedpans. We cleaned tables. We trained with the oldest equipment you could imagine because everything was going overseas for the war effort.”

Her class graduated in May 1945 to cheers, though there was another good reason for a jubilant response, she recalled.

“The ceremony was on May 9 – it was the day after VE Day!* And we thought all the excitement was for us.”

At 20, Barbara McGregor was a nurse, earning $90 a month to start and riding her bicycle to St. Boniface from her family’s home in Fort Rouge.

Operating Room

She enjoyed working as an operating room nurse for five years.

“I loved it. I worked orthopedics – all kinds of procedures, including amputations. This was before new knees and artificial hips were possible.”

“I did cry over a few patients, but you get used to it.”

During this time, she witnessed the advent of penicillin.

“What a difference. Before antibiotics, we were treating infections with hot-water compresses.”

She was also on hand for the Hospital’s 75th anniversary in 1946.

“There was a big celebration.”

Barbara went on to marry, move out of province, return to Winnipeg, and raise a family.

Through it all, she kept her affinity for the Hospital. Before the pandemic, she was regularly attending Nursing Alumni Association meetings in the parlour of the former School of Nursing.

“I might be the oldest living graduate of the program. There’s me and one other person from my class.”

The choice to help the Hospital by giving back was an easy one.

“If you’re fortunate enough to live comfortably and have the basics of life, you can do it. Our family philosophy is to pay it forward. We’re not millionaires but every dollar counts.”

Like mother, like daughter

Barbara’s daughter, Ann Roehl, is also a St. Boniface Hospital Foundation donor.

“My brother and I were both born at the Hospital,” said Roehl. “Growing up, we knew how important the Hospital was to mom. For us St. Boniface Hospital always feels friendly, not overwhelming.”

This generosity of spirit was evident in the Roehl family’s gift to refurbish the Hospital’s Intensive Care Medical/Surgery Family Room.

Legacy of Hope

Both Barbara and Ann have chosen to create a legacy with the Hospital. As Legacy of Hope Society members who leave gifts to St. Boniface Hospital, they’re among a group of dedicated supporters who envision a future of health, hope, and healing for generations to come.

Though a broken hip at 86 has slowed Barbara for the past decade, she agrees when Ann describes her as “feisty”, adding that’s how she’s made it to nearly 97.

Every dollar counts.

As the pandemic continues, she goes back to her nursing training and habits, including hand hygiene, to stay healthy.

She admires the nurses who carry on the Hospital’s tradition of compassionate care in response to COVID-19 and all other areas of need.

“You’ve got to hand it to today’s nurses. Organ transplants, joint replacements, dialysis, and other treatments and procedures are all new and expanding since my days as a nurse.  The future of training seems to be specialty areas, which can be intense.”

In the lead-up to National Nursing Week 2021, May 10-16, McGregor shares a parting thought for all nurses.

“To take care of others, you must first take care of yourself.”

*  Victory in Europe Day, a celebration marking the formal end of World War II in Europe.

Leaving an estate gift to St. Boniface Hospital is the beginning of a healthier future. Learn more.