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Dedication marked with joy, tears

June 13, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.VA. - In an event that sparked laughter and sorrow, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd joined with Shepherd University officials and others Tuesday afternoon in dedicating a new $10 million school of nursing building for the university.

The striking building, with its high-tech instruction rooms and heavy reliance on natural lighting, was named in honor of Byrd's wife, Erma Ora Byrd, who died March 25, 2006.

Byrd appeared to be overcome with emotion at times while remembering his wife of nearly 69 years, and his voice lowered and paused while he spoke of her.

Erma Ora Byrd Hall on the east campus near the school's administration building was dedicated on what would have been Erma Byrd's 90th birthday, and Byrd talked about her being in heaven.

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"I'm going to meet her there," Byrd said.

Byrd closed his speech with an Emily Dickinson poem in remembrance of his wife, and some people in the audience wiped their eyes as Byrd finished it. Although Shepherd's nursing school is highly regarded and hit an all-time high enrollment in 2004, school officials have had to severely limit admission of new nursing students due to inadequate classroom and laboratory space.

The nursing school - which officials said supplies many of the nurses employed at local hospitals such as City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., and Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown - has been in various buildings on campus, and has been in the Butcher Center since 1995.

While sometimes somber, the mood at the dedication event also was joyous as dignitaries touched on issues such as Byrd's record of bringing major federal facilities to the Eastern Panhandle, including the U.S. Coast Guard, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Conservation Training Center. Byrd obtained more than $22 million for Shepherd in recent years to build a new library expansion and a new science center that bears his name.

"The list goes on and on," said Shepherd University President David L. Dunlop, who soon will be leaving the school.

"And these are just the beginning," the 89-year-old Byrd said to Dunlop as he waited to take the podium.

Byrd's comment drew a round of applause from the standing-room-only crowd in the facility's 120-seat lecture hall.

Byrd continued to show his ability to get a crowd going when he stood up to talk about how he and Dunlop started to talk in 2004 about the need to build a new facility for the school of nursing.

"All good ideas don't start in Washington," Byrd said.

Byrd proclaimed how the nursing school now has come full circle and he started thrusting his arms in the air.

"Make it come alive," Byrd said.

Byrd repeated the phrase over and over, still thrusting his arms.

He later looked over at Dunlop and asked, "Is this being broadcasted?"

"No," Dunlop said.

"It should be," Byrd said.

Byrd said the country is suffering from a nursing shortage, which is expected to become worse as baby boomers age and the need for health care increases.

The new nursing facility is wedged into a narrow piece of property in the tightly developed east campus. Large reliance on natural light was a central theme in the design, and the education areas and offices feature windows that look out over the campus.

The building's facilities include two 60-seat classrooms, three 40-seat classrooms and a computer lab. There are labs that imitate hospital facilities such as a maternity ward and an acute-care lab.

In the acute-care lab, students will be trained in how to use equipment that lifts patients, said Kathleen Gaberson, chairwoman of the Department of Nursing Education.

There has been concern in the health-care field about nurses being injured while lifting patients, and the problem is compounded by the nation's problem with obesity, Gaberson said.

The equipment at Shepherd uses a sling that can be used to lift patients out of beds and even move them into bathrooms, Gaberson said.

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