MICHIGAN CITY — The Michigan City Senior Center is providing community members a free slice of history.
Any current or past graduate of the nursing program at either Purdue University North Central or Purdue University Northwest is welcome to stop in during business hours, 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday through Friday with their diploma and pick up a complimentary South Shore poster entitled, “Community Nursing – A PNC Legacy.”
It’s a lasting tribute to the impact one unforgettable nurse made on her community, and a testimony to the compassion, dedication and drive she gave to her profession.
Created in 2015 by local artist Neil Kienitz, the poster is based on a watercolor, acrylic and colored pencil painting inspired by a 1969 “Michiana Weekly Magazine” photo of the late Sandra Calkins Kowalski.
The young Sandy, working for the Visiting Nursing Association of La Porte County, was caring for an older gentleman, Joe Migliore. Her husband, Stan, said he’d been searching for just the right artist to capture the “Norman Rockwell pose” when he noticed another South Shore poster, “Experience Indiana’s Ocean” in the home of friend, Rita Fink, one of Kienitz’s students.
Ironically, Migliore also happened to be a neighbor at Kienitz’s boyhood home.
“The man who was the patient lived right across the street from me when I was a kid,” Kienitz said. “A while after the poster was released, his granddaughter, with whom I grew up, called to tell me how much she enjoyed and appreciated the poster. It was the first time I had talked with her in over 50 years.”
The most memorable aspect of the poster was how dearly Stan loved and respected his wife, and how proud he was of what she had accomplished,” Kienitz said. “Whenever he talked about her, which was very often, his eyes sparkled and I could sense how much joy even the memories of her brought to him. It made me wish that I had met her.”
Stan previously distributed the posters to students in the nursing program at Purdue North Central at their graduation ceremony. But when the school became Purdue University Northwest, that practice ended.
Senior Center director Tara Miller was all on board when Stan, a member of the center himself, came to her with the idea for the poster distribution. She began handing them out in June and has already gifted about two dozen.
“It’s very nostalgic. It’s a poster drawn by local artist Neil Kienitz. I think it’s a piece of history – it’s wrapped in local history,” she said.
She also pointed out that Sandy would have been active in the community at the same time many of the Senior Center members would have been involved in their own careers. In fact, several of them have indicated they knew her.
Sandy was born in Pennsylvania, where she and Stan were sweethearts at Johnsonburg High School. She earned her registered nurse certificate from Meyer Memorial Hospital in Buffalo, New York, and later a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Purdue University Calumet. She went on to earn a master’s in community health nursing from St. Xavier University in Chicago. There, she conducted fieldwork at Chicago’s Cabrini Green and Robert Taylor homes.
In 1989, Sandy continued her education by earning her PhD in medical sociology from Notre Dame. Her dissertation was on hospice care, the aging demographics in America, and the failure of the U.S. healthcare system to provide home end-of-life care.
She was one of the first nursing faculty members at PNC and was an associate professor of community health nursing at Valparaiso University for 23 years.
A lifelong advocate of community health care, Sandy was the second nurse hired by the VNA of La Porte County, and first in Michigan City, as well as a key figure in bringing hospice to the county. She was a VNA advisor for three decades, and also volunteered for and helped launch the former Open Door Health Clinic of Michigan City, which served the uninsured through volunteer health care professionals.
Still in her 50s, Sandra was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She died on May 20, 2012, at age 72, from complications. For 10 years, Stan cared for her at home, fulfilling her belief that the desire to live and die at home is universal.
Through the Unity Foundation of La Porte County, Stan also established the Sandra Calkins Kowalski Community Nursing Fund in 2003 to provide support to area nursing students as they pursue their education.