Interviewed by Marci Farr
12 October 2010
Oral History Program
Weber State University
12 October 2010
Copyright © 2010 by Weber State University, Stewart Library
The Oral History Program of the Stewart Library was created to preserve the institutional history of Weber
State University and the Davis, Ogden and Weber County communities. By conducting carefully
researched, recorded, and transcribed interviews, the Oral History Program creates archival oral histories
intended for the widest possible use.
Interviews are conducted with the goal of eliciting from each participant a full and accurate account of
events. The interviews are transcribed, edited for accuracy and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewees
(as available), who are encouraged to augment or correct their spoken words. The reviewed and
corrected transcripts are indexed, printed, and bound with photographs and illustrative materials as
available. Archival copies are placed in Special Collections. The Stewart Library also houses the original
recording so researchers can gain a sense of the interviewee's voice and intonations.
The St. Benedict’s School of Nursing was founded in 1947 by the Sisters of Mount Benedict. The school
operated from April 1947 to 1968. Over the forty-one year period, the school had 605 students and 357
graduates. In 1966, the program became the basis for Weber State College’s Practical Nursing Program.
This oral history project was created to capture the memories of the graduates and to add to the history of
nursing education in Ogden. The interviews focus on their training, religion, and experiences working
with doctors, nurses, nuns, and patients at St. Benedict’s Hospital. This project received funding from the
Utah Humanities Council and the Utah Division of State History.
Oral history is a method of collecting historical information through recorded interviews between a
narrator with firsthand knowledge of historically significant events and a well-informed interviewer, with
the goal of preserving substantive additions to the historical record. Because it is primary material, oral
history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete narrative of events. It is a spoken
account. It reflects personal opinion offered by the interviewee in response to questioning, and as such it
is partisan, deeply involved, and irreplaceable.
All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to
the Stewart Library of Weber State University. No part of the manuscript may be
published without the written permission of the University Librarian. Requests for
permission to publish should be addressed to the Administration Office, Stewart
Library, Weber State University, Ogden, Utah, 84408. The request should include
identification of the specific item and identification of the user.
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Sylvia Simoncini, an oral history by Marci
Farr, 12 October 2010, WSU Stewart Library
Oral History Program, Special Collections,
Stewart Library, Weber State University,
Class of 1960
Abstract: This is an oral history interview with Sylvia Simoncini, conducted by Marci
Farr and Sarah Langsdon, on October 12, 2010. In this interview, Sylvia
discusses her recollections and experiences with the St. Benedict’s School of
MF: This is Marci Farr. We are interviewing Sylvia Simoncini. She graduated from St.
Benedict’s School of Nursing in 1960. We are interviewing her via telephone, and
it is October 12, 2010. Sylvia, we just want you to start out and just tell us a little
bit about where you grew up, a little bit about your family and where you attended
SS: Well, I was born and raised in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and I’m still here. I
graduated from Rock Springs High School in 1957. My mother and dad are both
Italian. I have one brother.
MF: What do you think made you decide to become a nurse? Is there a reason why
SS: Not really. I graduated when I was seventeen, and at some point I realized that
my parents probably couldn’t afford to send me to a four-year university. I looked
at the options; I didn’t want to be a teacher, I didn’t want to just work in an
ordinary job, and I had known of some people who had gone to St. Benedict’s
and Holy Cross, actually, and probably even St. Mark’s at that time. I decided to
investigate it, and got some information in the mail, and applied. I think I applied
to both St. Benedict’s and Holy Cross, but the interview and testing with St.
Benedict’s was first, and they accepted me, and that’s where I decided to go. I
really liked Ogden.
MF: That’s a good thing. Was this your first time away from home?
MF: How was that? Were you okay with that, were you nervous?
SS: A little, yeah, nervous, and excited at the same time.
SL: Who was your roommate while you were in training?
SS: We had different roommates – my longest time roommate was Mary Lou
Dellamar. She was from Ogden.
MF: You just had different ones – who were your other roommates that you had?
SS: My first roommate was from Green River, Wyoming. She didn’t stay long in the
program. After that my roommate was Mary Lou. We did a stint at Ingleside,
MF: Was that for your psych?
SS: For the psych experience.
MF: How was that?
SS: There was LouAnn Marocchi, a student named Ester Uridi – she ultimately didn’t
finish the program – and Yvonne Febrezio, and she didn’t finish the program. Let
me think - Frances Greigo and Mary Lou Dellamar. I believe you have talked to
MF: Yes - Frances Duncan.
MF: Yes, we have. What was your experience there?
SS: I liked it. It was a huge complex of buildings, and they had an alcoholics ward,
and a schizophrenic ward, and a manic-depressive ward. They sort of had all
those people segregated into what their mental health problem was and also by
gender. There were a lot of patients there. I think the thing I remember most
about the schizophrenic ward was that all the women wore scrub dresses. In
those days you didn’t wear scrub suits, with a top and pants. They were scrub
dresses that were not much different from the scrub dresses you would wear in
the operating room.
MF: That’s interesting.
SS: Those people – you know, some of them had been there years and years, with
no hope of ever getting out.
MF: That would be hard, to have to see that.
SS: It is, but that was the norm at the time. That was where I got an introduction to
electro-convulsive therapy, which was an electric shock to the frontal part of the
brain, with the theory being that it changed their thought processes. It caused a
severe convulsion in the people who had it. I remember them standing in line to
get it done. It was very strange.
MF: That would be hard. How long were you in Nebraska?
SS: We were there three months.
MF: Were you? Okay. Did you also have another rotation, or did you have that at the
SS: We did – we had a pediatrics rotation at Children’s Hospital in Denver.
MF: Okay. Tell us a little bit about that. How was that experience?
SS: Well, it was interesting. Denver’s a pretty big city, and we were all excited about
it. I remember that we stayed in a place called Tammen Hall, and Children’s
Hospital was very close there. At that time, there were other big hospitals in the
area. There was St. Luke’s and Presbyterian. I believe St. Luke’s is still there,
and it has changed hands several times. I’m not even sure – it might be owned
by a corporation by now. Presbyterian - I kind of lost track of what happened
there. But Presbyterian had another hospital in Denver located in Aurora. It was a
little smaller. The Children’s Hospital in Denver and those other hospitals were
within walking distance of one another. It was interesting.
We didn’t have, until then, very much experience with pediatric patients,
and it was a little hard to see that many sick children, some of whom were in the
terminal stages of leukemia. At that time, they had very little or no treatment for it.
I also vividly remember a burn unit there, and some of those kids were severely
burned. They didn’t have the technology or the procedures that they do today. It
was really hard to watch. Burns are probably the most difficult thing to treat,
because it covers the whole body. I do remember one little kid there who had
been in a fire. He was severely burned. It was a pretty horrifying experience to
watch that. We had some really great clinical instructors there. They were very
MF: It was probably a good thing to be able to have that training, though.
SS: This was – at this time, you know, you wore a white starched uniform, and a
white cap, and white nylons and white shoes. But I do remember Ingleside –
when we worked in the alcoholic psych unit. I think we wore street clothes on that
unit. They had some personality problems, but for the most part, they were fun.
We played cards a lot.
MF: So they hadn’t gotten any of the drugs that helped with depression or anything
SS: Well, at that time, the medication they were giving the most of was Thorazine.
MF: Oh, okay.
SS: I think it worked fairly well, but it could be very toxic, and it was, especially over
time. It caused liver damage. I have seen severe convulsions precipitated by a
Thorazine reaction. Patients on Thorazine or other meds would line up at the
nurses’ station to get it. The medication nurse was behind a window like a teller
in a bank. They’d come up, were identification, and given a cupful of medications.
There was a nurse outside that window making sure they swallowed their
medicine, because some of them liked to spit it out.
MF: That is crazy. That would be an interesting couple months.
SS: It is. It was kind of like mental health care on a grand scale.
MF: That’s true.
SS: They had a place there for the really, really severely insane, and they wouldn’t let
students go up there.
MF: Probably for your safety, I’m sure.
SS: Students can be disruptive to a unit, because you’re new, you go in for a little
while, and then you’re out and there’s a new group rotating there. So you know, I
think normalcy and consistency were probably more beneficial than not.
MF: Absolutely, that’s true.
SS: Children’s, on the other hand, was a regular in-patient hospital. It was regular
medical surgical hospital. The big difference was that they were all children. I can
remember working in the preemie ward. There were premature infants there.
They had a thing called the milk lab, and moms who were breastfeeding would
come in and pump their breasts, and leave their breast milk there. We would
label it, process it, and refrigerate it. So some of those preemies got their
mothers’ milk. For others who didn’t, we had a formula lab, and we used to make
gobs of formula every day.
MF: Wow, that’s interesting.
SS: Anyway, today that’s all different, but they do still harvest breast milk for some
MF: Tell us about a few of your classmates when you were at St. Benedict’s. Is there
anything fun you used to do if you had some time off?
SS: We had very little time off. We went to classes most of the time in the afternoon;
anatomy, physiology, nutrition, I think we had some chemistry, pharmacology,
orthopedics, infectious diseases. You had some didactic work to do in pediatrics,
too, then all of the med-surg kinds of things. It was an intense course. But in
addition to that, you also worked four to eight hours a day in the hospital. So
sometimes your day was fairly long. You were scheduled on the weekends to
work, not every weekend, but weekends off were sparse. When I had a weekend
off, I grabbed the bus and came home.
MF: That’s true, that would be the first choice.
SS: The people from Ogden went home to their homes in Ogden. So that’s pretty
much what we did. We would go to movies, and it was kind of fun to catch the
bus and go downtown, just do a little shopping and walk around. I can remember
on Harrison Boulevard there was a place called Vogal’s pharmacy. You could go
down there and sit and have a milkshake or a Coke or whatever. We used to
sometimes walk down there just to get away. We’d walk down, get some ice
cream, and after we were through, we’d trek back up the hill. It’s quite a walk
uphill, from Harrison up to Polk Avenue.
MF: Yes. Did you ever try sneaking out, or anything like that?
SS: Some of the girls did, and we knew who they were, and we knew when they were
doing it. The nuns did too. There wasn’t much you could do that the nuns didn’t
know about. I never tried it – I was afraid to try it. They’d sneak out the window,
and I don’t know if you’ve been up there and looked at the nurses’ home; from
the ground floor to the grass is quite a jump. Out the back – if you went out the
front, it wasn’t so bad. Some of them were notorious for going out the window. Of
course, we would also help them to get back in once they were out. You could go
out, and you had to sign out, at St. Benedict’s nurses’ home, at the front desk
there was a big family room and an office. You had to sign in and out at that
office, give them an estimate of the time you would be back, and where you were
MF: So they kept track, and they’d make sure.
SS: Oh, yeah. Especially if you were going to be gone after seven or eight o’clock at
night. I know when I would go to Rock Springs and come back, sometimes the
bus was late or got in late, and then I’d just take a cab up to the hospital. You
couldn’t get in the nursing home after a certain hour; it was locked down. If you
were out after that time, you had to come in through the hospital. Somebody was
always stationed at a desk in the hospital, and watched who came and who went.
You had to sign in at the desk, and if you wanted to leave after a certain time,
you signed out at that desk. There was a tunnel between the hospital and the
nursing residence, which most of us didn’t like to go through, but in the
wintertime it was kind of nice.
MF: That’s good. So that’s how you’d get back in?
SS: Yes. Once in a while, anyone who had a car would drive up to Weber Canyon or
Ogden Canyon? Up to Rainbow Gardens?
MF: It’s Ogden Canyon.
SS: Ogden Canyon. We would go up there and have lunch, and come back down.
MF: That’s a good place to have food.
SS: It is. We had another rotation at the tuberculosis sanitorium.
MF: Oh, okay.
SS: I’m not sure exactly where it was. It wasn’t very far from St. Benedict’s. I don’t
think it was on Polk Avenue, but it could have been. I know we didn’t have to go
very far to get there. We would stay there, they had rooms for us; we were there
about a month, and the most remarkable thing about that was that their food was
MF: That’s good, that’s always a good thing.
SS: Years later, when they thought they had tuberculosis under control, they closed
all those sanitoriums. About – maybe seven, eight years ago or more, after
tuberculosis raised its ugly head again and it was resistant to all kinds of
treatment. They were thinking about re-opening sanatoriums. The biggest
problem was that patients on their own were not very compliant with taking all the
medications they needed. They had quite a few patients there – I don’t remember
exactly how many. I do remember that we used to give shots every week, of a
drug called Streptomycin. After I had worked with Streptomycin, over time I
became allergic to it. You can’t even get it today; people raise their eyebrows
when you say you’re allergic to Streptomycin, because it’s not even available
MF: That’s interesting.
SS: They had to get a lot of Streptomycin, and three or four different kinds of
antibiotic types of things. Some of them did have to have surgery to collapse a
lung, so that it would rest and heal, but I didn’t see much of that.
MF: That would be interesting to learn about that.
SS: Of course, advances in medicine have changed interventions a lot.
MF: It has, absolutely, I’m sure. What do you remember most about the sisters while
you were in training?
SS: You know, I still think that their habits were remarkable. They always looked neat
and pious, and they were. They were very strict, very smart. They were devout;
they were good nurses. Some of the best nurses I ever knew were some of our
clinical instructors who were nuns. Some of the head nurses who were nuns
were just awesome.
MF: Did you have any interaction with them other than when you were at the
hospital? Did you have any outside activities?
SS: Yeah, we did – they used to have backyard parties, like picnics. I think there’s a
tennis court there, and sometimes I think we would cook out out there. It was
kind of fun. I don’t know if you’ve been up there to look at it, but it’s a beautiful
place, and it’s just kind of nice to get out there and look at the mountains.
MF: It is a beautiful area; we went past it the other day. It is beautiful. Tell us about
your favorite classes that you had, or some that were not your favorite.
SS: I had two. I liked anatomy and physiology, and pharmacology. I think it was
because a nun named Sister Estelle taught anatomy and physiology, and she
was a good instructor. We learned a lot from her. Pharmacology was taught by
Sister Rebecca. She was short, thin, and pert. Full of energy, but she was getting
hard of hearing. So sometimes she didn’t actually understand what you were
saying. But it was very interesting, because giving medications is more complex
than you think. You need to know how it’s absorbed, the half-life of it, the
bioavailability of it, and what it’s supposed to do, what the expectation is for that
drug, drug interactions with other drugs, drug interactions with food, allergic
reactions, common side effects, that kind of thing. It was pretty interesting.
MF: That’s good. Do you remember any of your other instructors that you had while
you were there?
SS: I remember Mrs. Farr.
MF: Helen Farr?
SS: Yes. She was very nice. A good nurse, and we had her for clinical. I can’t
remember the name of the nun who was on OB, but she was just beautiful, and
nice. Very strict.
MF: Was it Sister Mary Gerald?
SS: No. Sister Mary Gerald was medical floor.
MF: That’s right, she was med-surg. I can’t remember who it was.
SS: I don’t remember. Sister Mary Gerald was like the director of medical floor. Then
there was a Miss Daneen, who was an ex-Army nurse, who was actually the
head nurse, or the charge nurse on the day shift. Wow, was she ever strict. I
mean, you better get it right, and not the second time – the first time.
Then we had an instructor named Mrs. Bartlett. She did medical surg, and
I’m not really sure what ever happened to her. I liked her well enough. I think it
was a Sister Edicta, who was in charge of the operating room. At that time there
were no recovery rooms. You just did operating room. By the time I was a senior,
they were building recovery rooms somewhere on that floor.
MF: That’s good. Do you remember any of the doctors that you worked with?
SS: Oh, gosh. You know, not really. I can remember an orthopedic surgeon who was
just – I have to say it – difficult and very particular. Some of the other people
probably told you his name; I can’t remember it.
MF: Was it Dr. Swindler?
SS: Yes, it was. I also remember a Dr. Grua who was a general surgeon. Then there
were two brothers, the Tanners; I think one was a plastic surgeon and I don’t
remember the other one.
MF: Was it Dean and Noall?
SS: Dean and Noall, yes. I can’t remember which one was a plastic surgeon; I think
the other one was a general surgeon or ear, nose, and throat. I don’t remember.
MF: I think Dean was the plastic surgeon. That’s good to know, because I’ve heard a
lot about them, they’re wonderful. That’s good. When you were on rotations just
at St. Benedict’s, which floor did you enjoy the most, or which experience?
SS: The experience I liked the most was operating room. After I graduated and did a
little bit of med-surg and emergency room and transferred to the operating room.
I was there about fifteen years, and for nine years of that time I was the head
MF: Oh, good.
SS: Operating room has been my first love. I still miss it to this day.
MF: Why so, do you think, rather than the others?
SS: Well, I felt like you could finish what you started. If you’re a floor nurse, and you
have five or six patients, you feel like you’re never finished. You hop from one to
the other doing various things. By the time you leave, you feel like you haven’t
done anybody any justice. You have so much to do that sometimes when you
prioritize, you end up leaving your shift feeling guilty about not being
superwoman. You only have so much time. But when you start an operating
room case, you usually finish it, unless you get sick or you have to be released
for lunch or something. But once you start that, you finish it. I guess I like that
MF: That’s true; that makes sense.
SS: I also liked the process of sterile technique. I still consider it fun.
MF: That’s good. Tell us a little bit about your capping ceremony. Do you remember
when that was held and where it took place?
SS: It was in the first year we were there; I don’t know if we had been there for six
months, seems to me like that. Of course, everybody’s parents came. I think we
got our capes at the same time. Those beautiful wool, navy-blue capes, with a
red lining. Mine’s still downstairs in the cedar-lined closet. It was beautiful. They
were – I would say almost knee-length. They were long. Of course, they have
“St. Benedict’s” on the collar, and you get your cape. Sister Berno, who was the
director over all the students, would put your cap on your head. You wore a white
uniform, and I think we carried one rose.
MF: Okay. So was that just a great day, to know that you’d made it that far?
SS: Oh, yeah, that’s a big deal. That capping’s a big deal. They don’t even wear caps
MF: No, they don’t.
SS: They wear uniforms that make them look like the cleaning lady, and sometimes
they’re not even ironed. You can’t tell by looking at them that they’re a nurse.
They’re in scrubs, but you can go down and you can buy scrubs, and wear them
out for leisure. I liked it better when nurses wore a uniform and were recognized
MF: That’s true. What do you think was probably your greatest challenge while you
were in nurses’ training?
SS: It was frustrating, because they expected so much out of you, but I don’t think
anybody could do all of it.
MF: It was a big undertaking, I think. What about graduation? Tell us a little bit about
SS: Graduation was in the church, as I recall. We did not wear our capes, but we had
to wear our uniform, and Sister Berno insisted that they be long-sleeved. I went
down to one of the uniform shops, and I looked at all of the long-sleeved
uniforms, and I really didn’t like them. They looked scruffy. They didn’t look sheik,
nice for young people. So I brought several of them to the dorm, and I brought
one uniform that I particularly liked that had three-quarter length sleeves. Not
long, but three-quarter length. We modeled them in front of Sister, and she
ended up agreeing with us. She agreed with us that the one with three-quarter
length sleeves looked the best. Unbeknownst to her, we had already ordered
them, so if she decided she didn’t like it, I don’t know what we were going to do.
MF: Well, there you go, that’s good.
SS: Of course, you had to wear white shoes, and they had to be clean all the time.
We used a lot of white shoe polish. They also wanted your shoelaces clean. You
better not be caught with a pair of shoelaces that weren’t clean. They wanted
your uniform three or four inches below your knee, period. I’ve known people
who were sent back to their room to put on another uniform if it wasn’t just right.
MF: They had to sparkle, huh?
SS: They laundered and starched our uniforms for us, and they were very well done,
and very crisp.
MF: I’m sure that was fun, trying to put that on the first time.
MF: Tell us about – after you graduated, did you stay at St. Benedict’s?
SS: You know, I didn’t. I applied for a job and was interviewed here in Rock Springs.
It was Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County, and it still has that name. I went
to work there, and I started working on a surgical floor. At that time, they were
segregated by medical floor, surgical floor, pediatrics, OB – I think they still do
that. I was on the surgical floor, but it just so happened that they also segregated
by gender. So upstairs, it was all the women. Downstairs, on the medical floor, it
was all the men, even if they’d had surgery. Figure that out. So I was upstairs
with all the women. My first head nurse was Evelyn Johnson - I graduated with
her daughter Lyn. She calls herself Janet now, but everybody from Rock Springs
still calls her Lyn.
MF: That’s a small world, isn’t it?
SS: Yes. She was as strict as any nun I ever saw. She was a very good nurse. I liked
MF: That’s good. So you stayed there?
SS: Well, I did that for a little while, and then they hired some other new graduate
students. One of those other students didn’t want to work with the male patients
so I went to work there. I had no problem working with the guys. Pediatrics was
located on that floor, too. Pediatrics was at one end of a long hall, and the men’s
floor on the other side. We had a small emergency room. It was one big room.
You could separate it down the middle with a curtain, a draw curtain.
SS: The patients would ring a doorbell when they came in, and the nurse from the
first floor, the medical/surgical male ward, would answer the bell. You would be
answering emergency stuff in between doing care on the floor. That was a
MF: That is interesting. So have you retired, or are you still working?
SS: Yes, I retired in 2006. I had a career that spans forty-four and a half years.
MF: I’m sure your training from St. Benedict’s served you very well.
SS: It did. After I left the operating room, I went back to school, and I got a bachelor’s
degree in allied health sciences from Colorado Women’s College in Denver. After
that, I took an ICU course at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake, and that course was
about three or four weeks. We lived in a house they had across the street. That
made me decide I didn’t want to be an ICU nurse, but I enjoyed it and I learned a
lot. After that, I applied to the University of Utah to finish up on a bachelor’s
degree in nursing. At that time, that division was held in Weber College. It was a
University of Utah program, but it was at the Weber College campus. So I moved
back to Ogden, and I finished my bachelor’s degree in a year and a summer.
MF: Very good.
SS: After that, I came back to Rock Springs and I started an LPN program at Western
Wyoming Community College. It’s still there and has expanded to a two year RN
program. I taught in that program for four years, applied again to the University of
Utah, and was accepted in their Master’s program. So I moved to Salt Lake City,
and it took two full years and a summer to finish my Master’s degree. I also did
an internship at Stanford in California for about three months.
After that I got a job at the University of Utah hospital. I started out in
quality management, and that’s what I did there. I wasn’t there very long when
we had a big joint commission survey. That just brings shivers down your spine
when you hear that. It’s the commission that accredits hospitals. I was in charge
of twenty-three different units doing quality assurance. I picked twenty-three
people and made them responsible for their floor to get that kind of work done.
They had already had some of those people in place. We worked on various
things that were specific to each unit and we passed joint commission with flying
colors. It was stressful but fun too. I’ve always been concerned about the quality
of patient care, and how you measure the outcomes and goals. So I learned a lot
in that job.
Then a friend of mine from Rock Springs, the director of nursing in Rock
Springs, called me. She said she was retiring and suggested that I put in an
application for the job she was leaving. By that time, I wanted to get back home.
My dad was getting up in years, and so I came to Rock Springs, interviewed, got
the job; and I stayed in that job for nineteen years. I was director of nursing there
at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County.
MF: What a great thing. That was probably nice, to be back home.
SS: Yes, it was good for me.
MF: That is great. Thank you for sharing your memories with us today.
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