Jackson— Ruth Conant’s career as a nurse spanned parts of six decades in an era that included World War II.
Conant graduated from St. Joseph’s Mercy School of Nursing in Ann Arbor in 1937, working at hospitals in Jackson and Chicago before becoming a nurse at a naval hospital in California prior to the U.S.’s involvement in the war.
Having her first child ended her naval career, and when her husband retired from the Navy in 1952, the family returned to the Jackson area.
Conant got back into nursing in 1957, eventually becoming the director of nursing at the Cedar Knoll Care Center in Grass Lake, where she oversaw 75 nurses and aides.
More than seven decades after graduating from St. Joseph’s and more than three decades after retiring from Cedar Knoll, the 96-year-old Jackson woman was recognized last month as alumnus of the year at the nursing alumni association’s annual banquet.
Conant and her two granddaughters who accompanied her to the banquet didn’t know she would receive the honor, making the occasion extra special.
“I was surprised,” she said. “I thought it was for my longevity, not anything I’d done.”
As her accomplishments were read prior to the presentation, fellow nursing alumni expressed awe and appreciation at the scope of her career, Conant’s granddaughters said.
The award brought to light changes that have come in the medical industry since her time in school, Conant said.
“I think it was an exciting time in my life to be in nursing,” she said. “(It) was so much different than what they do today.”
After the family’s return to Jackson, Conant jumped back into full-time nursing when the youngest of her three sons was 6 years old.
Juggling parenting and work was certainly a balancing act for Conant, said one of her granddaughters, Libby Lounds, who accompanied Conant to the alumni association banquet.
Conant’s strength and organization are traits she passed down through the family, Lounds said.
“All of us granddaughters, we’re very strong women, very strong mothers,” she said. “I think a lot of that came from her.”
The entire family remains centered on Conant, Lounds said, adding that she acts as a “matriarch” for her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Lounds heard stories of Conant’s accomplishments growing up, but many of the family’s younger children are too young to fully grasp what their great-grandmother did.
Katy Cleveland, who also accompanied Conant to the banquet, said she became more aware of her grandmother’s service and sacrifice as she grew older.
“You kind of start to appreciate that,” she said.
Through Conant, Cleveland said she’s learned to work hard and take pride in her job, one of many qualities Conant has passed on to family members.
Lounds said Conant’s career in nursing exemplifies what it means to give yourself up in service to others.
“She does it because she wants to help other people,” Lounds said. “I think that’s something that … really touched my heart. even though people do things for the right reasons … it’s really nice for them to be able to get recognized.”
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