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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Special interest group: Former Deaconess nurses grow close bonds since starting training in 1961

Former Deaconess nurses, from left, Dorothy Feldman, Connie Workman, Pam Conine, Nora Nikkola, Donna Pierce, Sue Terrell, Judy Free and Anne Magner gather at the Longhorn BBQ in Airway Heights on Oct. 7. Their friendships span 57 years from the first days of nursing school at Deaconess Hospital in 1961. A core of eight to 10 enjoy breakfast together once a month.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Former Deaconess nurses, from left, Dorothy Feldman, Connie Workman, Pam Conine, Nora Nikkola, Donna Pierce, Sue Terrell, Judy Free and Anne Magner gather at the Longhorn BBQ in Airway Heights on Oct. 7. Their friendships span 57 years from the first days of nursing school at Deaconess Hospital in 1961. A core of eight to 10 enjoy breakfast together once a month. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

On Labor Day weekend in 1961, a group of young women met at Deaconess Hospital to begin their nursing education.

They lived together in dorms, studied together, pranked each other, celebrated grades and engagements, and when they graduated in 1964, they vowed to keep in touch.

And they did. Their friendships span 57 years. Each month, a core group of eight to 10 meets for breakfast. They call themselves the “Breakfast Group of ’64.”

“We shared the same experiences,” explained Donna Pierce. “Living in the dorm, we developed a bond.”

JoAnn Hall agreed.

“We were so young when we met – most of us just 18,” she said. “We did everything together and relied on each other. We’re like sisters.”

That shared history, witnessing life from birth to death and everything in between, created a connection that lasted through nursing school and beyond.

Pierce said when they were all working and had young children they’d meet in each other’s backyards.

“We’d bring our lunches and let the kids play, then head back to work or take our ‘nappers’ home,” she recalled.

Some transitioned into other careers, but most of them spent 30- to 40-plus years in hospital settings or doctor’s offices.

They served as each other’s sounding boards as they wrestled with career or family issues. The topics of conversations evolved as their lives did. Nowadays, they discuss caring for aging parents and compare notes on any medical procedures they undergo.

Recently, they pooled their recollections to write and publish “Memories Beneath Our Cap,” a reflection of their time together at Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing. The book was published by Gray Dog Press in 2019.

Nora Nikkola spearheaded the project.

“It took two years from start to finish,” she said. “We had so much fun.”

Pam Conine echoed the sentiment.

“All of our wonderful memories started in the dorm,” she said.

They recalled their blue and white pinstriped student uniforms, the day they got their caps, and finally on graduation day, donning their white nursing uniforms with white nylons and polished white shoes.

Retirement means their meeting times can be flexible when out-of-town members of the class of ’64 visit.

“When friends come into town, we pick up right where we left off,” Nikkola said.

COVID-19 put a temporary crimp in their breakfast meetings, but when outdoor gatherings were allowed, they revisited their brown bag outdoor lunches of old.

“We met in Nora’s daughter’s cow pasture in the Valley,” said Anne Magner, chuckling. “Then we met on my deck.”

Their investment in each other’s lives has grown even more profound over the years.

“These are the most important people in my life,” Magner said. “These are the gals I can count on. They know me. Our bonds have grown tighter and stronger.”

“We’ve gone through all the transitions in life together,” explained Conine. “We’re each other’s counselors.”

And when some of those transitions bring sorrow, Hall said, “It warms your heart to know you’re not alone. We’ve been there for each other, no matter what.”

From first day on the job jitters to weddings, baby showers, graduations, the arrival of grandchildren, retirement, and the heartbreak of family funerals, the friends’ affection and support have remained constant.

“We’ve been so important to each other in the good times and the bad,” said Nikkola. “We will be meeting until the last one can no longer meet. I’m sure of it.”

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