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Hagerstown woman hosts reunion from early days of Western Maryland State Hospital

September 06, 2012|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Lorraine Hays, middle, tells Virginia Emerson about her days as a former nurse at Western Maryland State Hospital as Beth Ballinger looks over photos Thursday at a luncheon in Hagerstown.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

When Patsy Murray of Hagerstown hosted a reunion of her 1959 graduating class from Lutheran Hospital School of Nursing in Baltimore several years ago, the group picked up right where they had left off.

They had such a good time that Murray decided to plan a similar get-together for her co-workers from the early days of Western Maryland State Hospital, now Western Maryland Hospital Center, where she worked for about five years.

She and her husband, Samuel Murray, hosted 23 former staff members for a luncheon Thursday at their Overhill Drive home in Spring Valley.

When Western Maryland State Hospital opened in October 1957, Robert “Bob” Peterson, now 79, a physical therapist, and his wife, Jo Ann, a nurse, were hired to help set up the hospital and work there once it opened.

He had worked at Deer’s Head Hospital in Salisbury, Md., for about a year after he graduated from physical therapy school, waiting for the new facility to open in Hagerstown.

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“We were there when the first group of patients — I think there were about 17 — arrived. They were from Deer’s Head and Montebello (State Hospital in Baltimore),” said Bob Peterson, who worked at Western Maryland Hospital for 10 years, before taking another job with the state, then going into private practice.

The Petersons, who own a home in Frederick, Md., and a farm outside Clear Spring, seemed to be enjoying the reunion.

“It’s good they have name tags. You recognize faces, but the name escapes you,” Bob Peterson said.

If was easy for those arriving to find the Murray’s house  because of the balloons on the mailbox and the old nursing uniform of Pat’s, complete with white dress, navy cape and nursing cap, that hung from the outside light pole.

“I keep everything. I actually wore that uniform to work. I kept my uniforms for Halloween costumes for my kids,” Pat Murray said.

She put together a scrapbook of photographs, news clippings and her letter of employment, which included an annual salary of $4,290.

“That was pretty good for nurses back then. I think it was more than a hospital,” Pat Murray said.

Virginia “Jenny” Lefever, 85, of Hagerstown, was one of the original nurses at the chronic care hospital.

She worked at the hospital for 32 years before retiring as nursing director chief in 1989.

“You got so attached to the patients,” Lefever said. 

The reunion brought back lots of memories.

“I liked how we looked out for each other. You got to know the staff. You like the people,” Lefever said.
“You know, it’s wonderful, wonderful to see them all again.”

Mary Blickenstaff was transferred to Western Maryland Hospital from Montebello and worked for the state for 33 years. She was a nursing supervisor who helped set up the hospital.

“I loved it. I’ve spent my whole life working with them,” Blickenstaff said.

She does see some of her former co-workers and enjoyed seeing others she hadn’t seen for years.

When Dr. Fe Porciuncula retired in 1997, she had been with the hospital 30 years. She finished medical school in Baltimore and returned to the Philippines for two years, then was assigned to Western Maryland.

She was the only doctor at the Murrays’ gathering.

“I could pick between the mountains and the sea. I picked the mountains,” said Porciuncula, who is 77 and was 32 when she came to Hagerstown.

The reunion felt like family to her.

“I said it’s like home. They seem to be doing very well after retirement,” Porciuncula said.

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