Legacy of Care: Sue Peck, RN

Sue Peck graduated early from Milwaukee's Washington High School in 1970, she was faced with a historic opportunity. "Nobody in my family had ever gone to college," said Sue. "I was the first."

Sue started at UWM Medical School, but quickly decided it wasn't for her. Her family doctor practiced at Evangelical Deaconess Hospital, and they highly recommended the Deaconess school of nursing.

"All the best nurses come from Deaconess, they told me," said Sue. "So that's where I went."

What was it like living on 16th and Wisconsin in the early 1970s? "We had to sign in and sign out, so the housemothers knew where you were going. There was a camera at the front door, and guests had to be buzzed in. There were seven housemothers, and they were super-protective of us. This was their job, and they were not going to let these girls be endangered. They weren't just protecting our safety, they were protecting our morals, and they took that responsibility seriously."

"We had to be in our rooms during study hours," remembered Sue, "and if they heard footsteps during quiet hours, you better believe they'd check in on you."

Guests, and especially male visitors, were not allowed to visit students in their rooms. They were restricted to the lower level lounge areas -- that is, if the housemother let them in the building. "I once had a boyfriend come to visit me," said Sue, "and he wasn't allowed inside because he had a beard."

Based on solid grades, behavior and parental permission, Sue later moved to an apartment building where nursing students and medical residents lived side-by-side -- without housemothers. "We had a few good parties in that apartment," she remembered with a smile. "We'd order pizza from Angelo's, and it was never just one: you needed one for breakfast, after all."

Throughout her school years, Sue went home on a city bus whenever possible, and worked part-time as a unit secretary at Northwest General Hospital (5310 W Capitol Dr.)

"Because the average hospital stay was longer, we spent much more time with our patients back then. People would stay for 1-2 weeks, not just 2-3 days. We knew the color of their eyes. We knew about their hobbies, interests and personal lives. It was a real luxury, getting to know someone that well."

"I still remember one of my first patients. He was a 42-year-old man who suffered a fatal stroke during the night. When I came in the next morning, I was told not only that he had passed away -- but that I was the one who would notify the family."

"I just broke down in tears, bawling. The instructor asked, 'what's the problem?' I explained that I was the nurse, and as the nurse, I needed to be bedrock strong. The instructor just smiled and said, 'We are all human beings. We all have emotions. There is nothing wrong with letting them know you're real. I'm sure they would love to know that you really cared.' It was a moment I will never forget."

Sue has warm memories of Kenneth Jamron, Deaconess hospital president. "He was just the most beloved administrator," said Sue. "He parked his car behind the emergency room so he could use that entrance. Once, he entered the ER during one of our rare downtime moments, and caught us with our feet up on the desk with a cup of coffee. We thought we were in big trouble, but he just smiled and said 'It's nice that you have this moment to relax.'"

"We were a very busy hospital, with patients in every room. He would thank us for making them feel comfortable and secure. He really recognized and appreciated how busy we were. He'd even come in on Christmas Eve to spend time with the patients. He arranged holiday dinners for people working on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. This meant so much to us, when we couldn't go home to our families during the holidays."

Jamron served as president from 1965 to 1980. When Deaconess and Lutheran hospitals merged to form Good Samaritan Medical Center, he continued in that role until retiring in 1986 as president emeritus. Jamron was considered a pioneer in health care management and one of the first hospital leaders in Milwaukee to pursue on-air and print advertising.

After graduation, Sue was employed by Milwaukee Psychiatric Hospital for six months. Eventually, she returned to Deaconess Hospital, where she worked in the ER. In April 1985, the Deaconess Hospital campus closed after 75 years at 19th and Wisconsin, and both services and patients were transferred to Good Samaritan Medical Center. "It was exciting to move to a new and modern ER," said Sue, "but we had to stay onsite for a week or two after the closing, just in case an emergency patient showed up."

After emergency services merged at Good Samaritan, Sue became part of the Women's Assessment Center in the ER. When Sinai Samaritan services were consolidated at Aurora Sinai Medical Center in 1998, Sue joined the Employee Health team, supporting Aurora St. Luke's South Shore and the Aurora Visiting Nurse Association.

Today, Sue is located at Aurora Sinai Medical Center, where her daughter, Stacey, carries on the family tradition as a registered nurse in the NICU. "This is home," she said. "Aurora Sinai is very warm, welcoming and caring, and you feel it on the campus. It's not always like that at other hospitals. We have graduates from Lutheran, Mount Sinai and Deaconess who grew up in these walls and stayed here for their careers. The warmth and family atmosphere that lived at Deaconess lives on here today."

Sue points to an Aurora value that Deaconess held with high regard. "We were taught to responsibly manage resources, even back then. We were asked, 'how will you make do with the situation you have?' We learned how to be resourceful in every situation. That has stayed with me throughout my entire career."

Does she ever miss the old hospital buildings? "At the time, I really didn't think about the hospital closing. Most of the staff had already moved over to Good Samaritan, so we still felt together. There were so many Deaconess graduates still in the system at that time, and people moved with the jobs."

"What was the hardest part of the hospital being torn down? Seeing the little black stone historical marker that replaced it. But it wasn't the building that mattered most at Deaconess. It was the people."

"That's what lives on about Deaconess, even today: the people."