Faces come and go over the course of 50 years. Events that did not seem important at the time fade from memory. Searching for facts a half-century old can seem like panning for gold.
One particularly valuable nugget turned up in a Cizik School of Nursing storage room at the bottom of a box labeled “School of Nursing HISTORY” - the late Dorothy Otto's 1972-73 directory. It lists names, addresses, and phone numbers for 94 students, 16 faculty members, and five staff members, most with accompanying photos. Three of these originals shared fond memories of the school’s first year.
“It was exciting to be starting nursing school, and the medical center here in Houston was like a city within itself – just an exciting place to be,” said alumna Susan Ebbs Fitcher, a member of the first class, which graduated with Bachelor of Science in Nursing degrees.
“When I first got here, I walked around the medical center at nighttime,” recalls Sheryl Scoville Martinez, Fitcher’s former roommate. “I was just in awe of all of the knowledge and all of the medical stuff that was going on there.”
Men were not very common in nursing schools at the time. The five male students in the first class included Gary Gray, who was going through the program with his wife, Linda.
Marvin Hecker was the only male employee during the three years he worked at the nursing school. A Rice University graduate, Hecker had switched his major from engineering to sociology about the time the de Menil family founded the Rice Media Center. This gave him the opportunity to work with all types of audio and visual equipment available at the time and to make several documentaries.
When a seasonal job with the Harris County Department of Education came to an end, 23-year-old Hecker’s boss suggested he apply at the new nursing school.
“I had an appointment with Dr. Betty Jones, the dean at the time. I walked in and she said, ‘I understand you went to Rice. You’re hired,’” Hecker recalls. “I knew nothing about nursing or education or anything. It turned out to be a great experience.”
Hecker ordered and set up equipment and built a film and video library. Martinez recalls a work-study job in the AV center checking out cassette tapes and video players to her classmates.
However, Hecker generally remembers more details about life in the “garage” than the students do – they were too busy.
“The program at The University of Texas (at Houston) was very difficult. I did not see the light of day,” Fitcher said. She and Martinez remember writing long research papers on rented typewriters and spending many hours in Texas Medical Center hospitals. “I thought I was in medical school,” Fitcher added.
Hecker helped relocate the nursing school from the Hermann Professional Building Annex to Houston Main Building before taking a job in Austin with The University of Texas System School of Nursing. There, he worked to develop an AV clearinghouse for all six campuses of the school across the state. His job went away after the UT Board of Regents dissolved the System nursing school and transferred responsibility for nursing education to the universities in the various cities. However, he worked with Otto for a few additional months preparing for an international continuing education conference in Houston.
“We had some really talented faculty,” Hecker said. “At the nursing school, you had a lot of independent women, women who were professionals. But at the end of the semester, when everybody was moving out of their offices, they would come to me and ask me to help them carry their books to the car.”
After graduation, Fitcher completed a nursing internship at Hermann Hospital and then joined the U.S. Navy, working mostly in critical care. She took a break to raise her children, then returned to nursing in a pediatrician’s office, from which she retired in 2002. She now lives in Easton, Maryland, and has two daughters who have become nurses.
Martinez started her career in a brand-new ICU unit at Ben Taub Hospital and later worked in home health before becoming a full-time mom. She says her nursing training has come in handy many times as a school volunteer and in her personal life. “You always have those nursing skills and knowledge with you,” she said.
Hecker found his next job doing AV work at the UT Medical Branch in Galveston. Through an only-in-Texas string of events involving Willie Nelson and an early model video projector stolen from one of the first Mr. Gatti’s pizza places, Hecker wound up going into business with a man who ran a TV repair shop from the back of a post office in Oak Hill, Texas. The business grew into a successful AV equipment and services company that set up conference rooms and classrooms throughout Central Texas. After selling the company in 1999, he served as a consultant and later worked with a simulation lab in Austin, where he learned not to call manikins “dummies.”
“It all started with the nursing school,” Hecker said.