Former nursing students visit their Barret Avenue school one more time

Standing in front of an old building at 768 Barret Ave., more than 80 women chattered excitedly, only interrupting their conversations to exclaim a name and give a hug to a former classmate they’d just spotted.

They talked about climbing out the windows of the building after hours, remembered sunbathing on the roof while the surgeons watched from their hospital offices and how their uniforms were so full of starch they could have very well stood up all by themselves. The women, now in their 50s and 60s, had attended the Kentucky Baptist Hospital School of Nursing in the building, which now houses the Louisville Metro Housing Authority’s Section 8 offices.

The former KBH students gathered Wednesday to tour the building and reflect on when they used to live and study there more than 30 years ago. Louisville Metro Councilwoman Vicki Aubrey Welch, D-13, graduated from KBH and set up the tour with help from the city.

“I was telling them that it was closing down and the problems with it and everything, and they said, ‘It would be great if we could just see it one more time,’ ” Welch said.

The building is part of the 12-acre Urban Government Center, which is slated for redevelopment. Five developers submitted plans in April for how they would revitalize the government site, turning it into a mixed-use development with housing, retail and other uses. The plans are currently under review.

“It’s just been nice to reminiscence before it’s gone,” said Judy Glidewell, who graduated from KBH in 1979.

Three of the redevelopment proposals include demolishing all the buildings on the property, but Underhill Associates’ proposal and the plan submitted by Weyland Ventures both state that they’d like to keep the former nursing school building if possible.

Although it’s changed throughout the years and had different uses, Welch said the building still holds “a lot of great memories” for KBH students.

“We came in here at 18 years old, some 17 probably, and for three years, it was just such a wonderful education. This was the very last hospital school of nursing. All the others went away to colleges, and all they had was textbook knowledge. We did the textbook over here and then promptly went over there and practiced nursing on real people,” Welch said referring to the former hospital across the drive. “We had check-off lists. You had to do 10 IVs, 10 catheters, 10 this, 10 that. Several of us went to work at Jewish ICU right out of here.”

Nurses with a four-year college degree wouldn’t know how to perform different tasks such as inserting an IV, Welch said, and she and other KBH graduates would end up teaching them.

Each former student had a story — how they had to stuff toilet paper into their nurses’ caps to keep them standing up, how strict the leadership was about the uniform appearance, how one instructor required them to make their beds so that a quarter would bounce off of it.

Several remembered standing on the roof of the school building watching the tornado cut through Louisville in 1974. Three had been married in the school’s chapel, which now is an empty former emergency communications center. Lesli Carter, who graduated in 1979, said her husband proposed to her on the road between the school and the hospital.

Glidewell recalled having to work in the hospital on a particularly snowy day in the winter of 1978.

“It had snowed so bad that the nurses on the floors couldn’t get home, so we were told to get up and get out of our beds. They came over and took our beds, and we came over and staffed the hospital as seniors,” she said.

LBH has such as stellar reputation that 1980 graduate Jan Jones stayed on a waiting list for three years before she was admitted.

“I loved my hat, and I loved graduating from here. It was one of the best schools around,” Jones said. “KBH was known for hands-on for the best clinical rotation. The others were more book knowledge.”

Once she got in, she remembers how arduous the program was.

“It was night and day,” she said. “We’d come to class every day at like 8 o’clock and then we’d go to Highlands — it was Highlands then — and we did a psych rotation.”

Given that most of the women lived on site and had to share a phone booth to call family and friends, Welch said, much of the time was spent bonding with others in the program. Today, she still gets together quarterly with members of her graduating class.

“You got to know these girls, and they are your lifelong friends. We’ve been in each other’s weddings, everything that there can be,” Welch said. “It’s just really neat.”