Joan Garver Thornton
Interviewed by Marci Farr
29 September 2010
Oral History Program
Weber State University
Joan Garver Thornton
29 September 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
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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.
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Joan Garver Thornton, an oral history by
Marci Farr, 29 September 2010, WSU
Stewart Library Oral History Program,
Special Collections, Stewart Library, Weber
State University, Ogden, UT.
Joan Garver Thornton
Class of 1956
Joan Garver Thornton
September 29, 2010
Abstract: This is an oral history interview with Joan Garver Thornton, conducted by
Marci Farr, on September 29, 2010. In this interview, Joan discusses her
recollections and experiences with the St. Benedict’s School of Nursing.
MF: This is Marci Farr. We are interviewing Joan Thornton. She graduated from St.
Benedict’s School of Nursing in 1956. It’s September 29, 2010, and we are
interviewing her via telephone. She lives in Georgia.
Would you just share with us a little bit about your early life, where you
grew up, a little bit about your family and also where you attended school?
JT: I grew up in Saint Anthony, Idaho and grew up with a family of four girls and one
boy. I attended school at South Fremont High School in Saint Anthony and had
never been out of town until I went to Utah.
MF: For nurses training?
MF: Why did you decide to become a nurse?
JT: I think growing up my mother was a wonderful care giver for us kids. We didn’t
see too many doctors and were never in the hospital. My father was also a very
caring person. My oldest sister went to nursing school at St. Benedict’s and I
absolutely idolized her.
MF: Oh good. What was your sister’s name?
JT: Beverly Garver. Siddoway now.
MF: Okay. That’s good to know these connections.
JT: My little sister also went to nursing school there. Her name was Connie Garver
and now it’s Connie Van Hook.
MF: Oh really? Good to know. I know we talked to Pat Hopkins Brown the other day.
You were a couple of years before her?
JT: Yes. I was before her. I also knew her sister too-Helen Hopkins.
MF: Yes. Very good. So this was your first time away from home? What were you
thinking when you first entered nurses training?
JT: Well, I’ll tell you. First of all I got into nurses training through Sister Berno. I got a
scholarship from the Utah State Nurses Association. It was Sister Berno who
recommended me for that. I’ll forever be grateful to her for that. When I first got
there I was just in awe of the nuns and of the student nurses and their uniforms.
Ogden was such a big city to me.
MF: Compared to Saint Anthony, I’m sure.
MF: Who was your roommate during training?
JT: My roommate was Anne Mann Grannon. She was my roommate through my
second and third year. She was a very good roommate. We got along very well. I
still talk to her occasionally.
MF: Oh good. That’s nice that you stay connected after all these years. Who were
some of your classmates?
JT: Patty Birch Mazzola. I went through grade school and high school with her and
we went to nurses school together. She was one of the girls I graduated with.
Also Joan Snow and Nancy McCurdy. Alice Speedy Hartley. I hope I’m not
forgetting anybody else.
MF: Was Josephine Ulibarri the same year as you?
JT: Yes. Thank you for reminding me.
MF: We just interviewed her too. That’s a great group of women that you got to spend
three years with.
JT: Yes, it was.
MF: Tell us about the Sisters. What are some of the things that you remember about
the Sisters at Saint Benedict’s .
JT: My very favorite was Sister Estelle. She taught anatomy and physiology. Sister
Mary Gerald also. I’m trying to think of some of the others. I had them all written
down here. I remember I was just in awe of them.
MF: Did you ever have any interactions with them outside of school?
JT: We did. We played horseshoes out in the back and they would have cookouts for
MF: Was it interesting to see the difference in them from when they were in school to
when you were just spending time together outside of class?
JT: Yes. We had a good time with them.
MF: So what were some of your favorite classes that you took?
JT: My favorite classes were anatomy and physiology and medical arts.
MF: Was Jeane Barker your teacher?
JT: Jeane Barker was one of my idols as well.
MF: She’s amazing. We interviewed her a couple weeks ago.
JT: We were so fortunate to have her teaching us. She was somebody that we really
looked up to.
MF: We just fell in love with her as well. That’s great. Do you remember any of the
doctors that you worked with while you were in training?
JT: Yes, Doctor Moore and Doctor Stirland, Doctor Howell, who I was deathly afraid
of, and Doctor Swindler who I was afraid of also. Doctor Moore organized a
Presbyterian church get together on a Sunday evening and invited the nursing
students and some boys from the Base. That’s where I met my husband.
MF: Oh good.
JT: I was married until he died just not too long ago.
MF: So was he in the Air Force?
JT: Yes. He was in the Air Force.
MF: He was stationed at Hill?
JT: He was stationed at Hill Air Force Base.
MF: Well, that’s a good thing.
MF: So tell us a little bit about what you and some of your roommates would do if you
had some time off.
JT: We would play cards or actually we were almost too tired to do anything.
MF: I’m sure. It was probably crazy.
JT: Yes. We watched TV and we would go down to Judy’s down the hill and have a
Coke or something like that. Occasionally we’d go to a movie when we had the
money. We were all poor.
MF: Poor and tired, right?
JT: Right. Of course, some of the girls went to the USO dances. I didn’t ever go to
them. Then, of course, I met my husband at church and he was in the Air Force.
MF: Well, that’s good. Now at that time you couldn’t be married, right? During
training? Could you be engaged?
JT: You could be engaged but, I have to tell you, I was secretly married in my senior
MF: Oh, yeah. That’s a good story to hear. Somebody else told us that story too and I
can’t remember who it was that said they were married.
JT: My husband was stationed in Louisiana and wanted me to meet his parents. He
picked me up in Ogden and we went to California to meet his parents. On the
way back we got married in Las Vegas and he left the next day.
MF: That’s crazy. A whirlwind wedding.
JT: Yes. I saw him after I graduated. I went down after taking the state boards, then
moved to North Carolina to be with him.
MF: That’s good. We had somebody else that said the same thing. They had a whole
year until they graduated and they had to keep it a secret.
JT: Yes. That was hard to do.
MF: I’m sure. That would be. You’d be terrified because you’d be like, “I’m almost
JT: Yes. I know.
MF: That would not be a good thing.
MF: So, when you were at the hospital, which floor or rotation do you think was your
favorite out of the ones that you were trained on?
JT: I liked medical floor really well, mainly because of Sister Mary Gerald. I enjoyed
working in orthopedics, labor and delivery, and the nursery. I liked the medical
floor because I felt like I learned a lot more about patients there, the different
types of the diseases of the body.
MF: It was broader probably as far as learning because everything would come
MF: Did you have any rotations out of the state at this time?
JT: Yes. I had one in Denver. That was Pediatrics and that was a real challenging
one. I really liked it and I learned a lot there. What was really interesting was the
MF: Were they in the hospital?
JT: These were post Polio patients.
MF: Oh, okay. After.
JT: At St. Benedict’s I took care of patients in the iron lung and that was really
something to see. Sometimes you’d see several members of a family all sick with
MF: That would be so tragic to see.
JT: A lot of us nurses took special care of the patients in iron lungs. Then when I
went to Denver we took care of post Polio patients and used the hot packs. We’d
run these big wool blankets through the washing machine ringer and then lay
them on the patients for their muscle spasms.
MF: That would be so hard to see both ends of it. Plus, with children, I think that
would probably be the hardest to see that with children.
JT: Yes, it was.
MF: So how long were you in Denver?
JT: It was a three month rotation.
MF: Oh, okay. So was that at the end of your senior year or did you do that during
your junior year?
JT: I did that between my junior and senior year.
MF: Okay. It was probably great seeing the Polio victims in the iron lung but then to
see them after with the affects of it.
JT: Yes. And then to see it eradicated all together through the polio vaccine.
MF: Oh, I’m sure. That was just amazing. It was probably a miracle just to be able to
see people be able to recover from this.
JT: Right. It was. I had a very favorite patient and his name was Johnny. After he got
home he wrote me a love letter. He was just a little kid, a little boy.
MF: Oh, how nice.
JT: I can remember when he was coming out of the iron lung and ready to go home
and we had to show his mother how to use a suction and how to take care of
him. I always wondered how things progressed with him.
MF: I’m sure. It’s amazing that people survive these illnesses.
JT: It is.
MF: That’s a scary thing to have to think about. So now did you have any other
rotations or was Denver your only one?
JT: Denver was my only one.
MF: So was Hastings, Nebraska after you?
JT: We didn’t have Hastings as a rotation during my time in nurses training.
MF: So did you enjoy your time in Denver?
JT: Yes, I did. A lot of us nurses would go to the city park. It’s a huge park. That was
when rock and roll became popular. We’d go down to the local place and have
Coke and listen to rock and roll on the little jukebox.
MF: That’s great. So tell us a little bit about your capping ceremony and where that
JT: The capping ceremony took place in the nursing library. It was just a very
beautiful, solemn service. I was very proud to get my cap and my cape.
MF: I’m sure. You worked hard for those to be able to say, “Yes, I’m gonna make it.”
So that was at the nursing home. Where was graduation held at?
JT: Graduation was held at St. Joseph’s Catholic church there in Ogden and it was
MF: Was your family invited to that?
JT: Yes. My mother and my dad, who never went any place, drove down there and I
was so proud to see them.
MF: How exciting to have them be there for you. That’s a great thing. You sister
wasn’t in class yet was she? Connie wasn’t?
JT: No, she wasn’t and my older sister had already graduated.
JT: They were very proud. My brother, Paddy Garver, went to medical school and he
became a doctor. They had three girls who became nurses, one boy that became
a doctor, and another girl who worked for the government in Denver, Colorado –
MF: What a great thing for your parents. That’s a great legacy for them. That is
wonderful. What do you think was probably your greatest challenge while you
were in nurses training?
JT: I think probably working the twelve hour shifts, working nights and then going to
class at eight o’clock in the morning.
MF: That would probably do it right there. That would be a really hard thing. So after
you graduated from St. Benedict’s did you stay at the hospital for any time or did
you just go right to North Carolina with your husband?
JT: After I took state boards then I went to North Carolina where my husband was
stationed. I went there in September. He was out of the service by January and
we went to California where I worked there and raised our family. We had three
children. My husband worked for the government and we were transferred to
Great Falls, Montana. That was a dream job for us because we wanted to get
back so bad to the real West. The Wild West. We lived in Montana for about
twelve years and then he was transferred down to Georgia.
MF: So that’s where you’ve been ever since?
JT: Yes. He always wanted to get back to Montana. He was from Arkansas and he
loved Utah and Montana. Those were his favorite places.
MF: All the mountains and the beautiful places. So you have three kids. What did they
end up doing in their careers?
JT: I had six children. My oldest daughter is a social worker and she graduated from
SMU in Dallas, Texas. My second daughter is an RN living in Savannah,
Georgia, working for the school system. My third daughter is a flight attendant,
living in Charlotte, NC. My son graduated from Jacksonville State in Alabama
with a degree in communications. He is now in sales. I had twins and my son is
going to school and my other daughter passed away about two years ago.
MF: Well, that’s good to know about your kids. Well, I appreciate you letting us visit
with you. When did you officially retire?
JT: I retired in 1997 and during my career I was a supervisor and then ended up
making a career out of the emergency room as a charge nurse.
MF: Oh good. That was probably something different every day.
JT: Right. My training at St. Benedict’s was invaluable. I received the best training
there could have ever been.
MF: Oh, I’m sure. So did you deal with any situation- so you ran the hospital and you
also were trained on every single floor. There was probably not anything that
would make you hesitate because you knew just what to do.
MF: That’s great. The nuns, I’m sure the Sister’s were amazing.
JT: They were. They were a great inspiration for us.
MF: Well, I appreciate you letting us visit with you and I’m sorry that I was late.
JT: Oh, Marci you weren’t late and I appreciate you taking your time to do this too. I
think it’s wonderful.
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