Retired nurse recognized for WWII contribution – Shaw Local

CLINTON, Iowa — The Homefront contribution made by Mary Voss during World War II and the post-war period was commemorated last week by the Illinois statehouse.

The training she received then in a life spent in nursing, serving the communities of Morrison Albany and Fulton.

A former neighbor’s intercession led to the certificate of recognition being presented to the 95-year-old former nurse.

Don and Lilly Hall moved to Grandview Condos in Fulton in 2017. For a couple of years, Mary was their neighbor.

Lilly worked as an X-ray tech at Mercy Hospital and had known Mary when she worked for Fulton ambulance as an EMT. The couple would bring Mary her mail and help with tasks, and she eventually told them of her time with the US Nurse Cadet Corps.

Mary credits her grandson Dennis VanZuiden for bringing a renewal interest in her CNC days.

He brought her two books, “Your Country Needs You: Cadet Nurses of World War II” by Thelma Robinson and “The United States Cadet Nurse Corps [1943-1948] and other Federal nurse training programs” by the United States Public Health Service.

After reading the books, she decided to share her nursing experiences with her neighbors.

Don said he hadn’t heard of the program. Once he learned more, he contacted Tony McCombie, the state representative form Savanna whose 71st District includes Whiteside County. That led to the commemoration.

“She’s an amazing lady with a story that only she could tell. It was a lot of sacrifice on their generation’s part,” Don said. “She helped the country during a critical time and gave her service to the Unites States as a nurse.”

A certificate sent by McCombie arrived at Mary’s new residence at the Bickford assisted care facility. It was signed by Speaker of the House Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Clerk of the House John Hollman. The commemoration thanks Mary for her “service at that time of need.”

Mary’s sons, Tom and Bob VanZuiden, a few Bickford nurses, and Don were on hand to share in the presentation.

Mary said her certificate will be added to her nursing collection display.

The United States Cadet Nurse Corps was authorized by the US Congress on June 15, 1943, and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 1. The corps addressed the nursing shortage that existed on the Homefront during World War II. By that point, many doctors and nurses were overseas.

The Public Health Administration program ran until Dec. 31, 1948. During that time, more than 120,000 women joined and went through the strict training process. They were then assigned to a civilian or military hospital or other public health agency for six months.

White in high school, Mary read about the CNC in the newspaper. She already had experience as a nursing aid at Morrison’s 15-bed hospital. With the promise of a free education, she signed up.

“It didn’t cost anything, but you paid the price,” she said.

Mary went to West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park for three years of training, followed by six months of psychiatric training in Springfield.

All “under the hand of the government,” she said.

She recalls the experience as a time of constant training, school, studying, and sleeping.

“It was hard work and there was no such thing as days off,” she said, noting that the war had ended when she started her last class.

Mary said that walking across the stage at West Oak to “get pinned” in 1948 was a proud milestone in her chosen profession.

She was supposed to get a uniform after graduating as a nurse from West Suburban, but by that time the “government was running of out everything” so that uniform never materialized.

From a class of 90, she and two other cadets were sent to Fort Defiance, Arizona, for their six months of active service on a reservation for native peoples.

The nurses spent their residents assisting on the reservation, where the didn’t speak English. They visited trading posts and hiked the Arizona mountains on days off.

After finishing their service, Mary and her friends went adventuring on the West Coast, visiting the Catalina Islands, Alcatraz, and other tourist destinations. She kept the suitcase covered with her travel destination stickers.

The nurses eventually took the “troop train” back to Chicago, with Mary then heading home to Morrison where they had a job waiting for her.

While at the Morrison Hospital, she was charge nurse and helped with making surgeries, delivering babies, and even house calls with the doctors.

“They were desperate for help,” she said.

Mary soon married Maynard VanZuiden, the second of 12 kids, and they moved to a farm in rural Albany.

They welcomed sons Bob and Tom, with Mary telling tales of milking the cows with a toddler and infant in tow.

But Maynard, the “love of her life,” passed away from polio on Aug. 21, 1954, leaving her with two young boys and a farm to maintain.

The family moved back to Fulton, and she later married Joe Voss.

She also returned to nursing, working as a registered nurse at the former Jane Lamb Memorial Hospital.

She still has her first all-white nurse uniform and cap from her job at Mercy Hospital, emblazoned with the hospital insignia.

She was a private duty nurse, a school nurse, and eventually the director of nursing at Harbor Crest Home in Fulton.

She also joined the first EMT department in Fulton. She remembers answering the first 911 call placed in Whiteside County.

She spent 15 years with Fulton Ambulance and won the first state EMT award, which is on display in her room.

Mary retired in 1994. The Bickford nurses joked that if they could clone her for nursing help, they would.

Mary smiled when noting that the advent of computers in the medical industry is what really inspired her to leave when she did. She preferred her paper and pen methods.


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