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A nurse's story: Goodwin retires

Mary Goodwin holds onto the nurse's cap she wore proudly during many of her years working at the New Richmond Clinic.

A table in the window with a bouquet of bright yellow and purple flowers told Mary Goodwin's story. A card, enclosed in a sterilizing pouch, read, "We miss you already, but you deserve the best. Love you." Perched on top of the brightly colored flowers sat a small replica of a nurse's hat made of crisp white paper.

"I was the last one at the clinic to give up my cap," Goodwin recalled. "It was a part of my uniform every day for many years. I was very proud to wear it."

Goodwin's last day, Jan. 16, came and went like any other day, without fanfare. Goodwin wouldn't have had it any other way.

To the many people who knew and worked with her, and who benefited from her care over the last 42 years, it marked the end of a singularly dedicated career of caring.

"I was so lucky because I always liked what I was doing," she said. "I liked being a nurse. I enjoyed learning and I enjoyed the people. The clinic is a family."

Goodwin grew up the second oldest of seven children on a farm in the Town of Erin Prairie. In first grade she shared a classroom at Jewetts Mills country school with a young man named Neal Melby, the same Dr. Melby she would end up working with at the New Richmond Clinic many years later.

As Melby remembered it, "There were four of us. The whole school probably had 20 kids total in all eight grades and all taught by one teacher."

Goodwin set her sights on becoming a nurse while in high school when she joined the FNA -- Future Nurses of America. After working as a nurse's aide at Holy Family Hospital (now Westfields Hospital), she moved into a dormitory in St. Paul, Minn. and began a yearlong course of instruction at Miller Hospital to become an LPN -- Licensed Practical Nurse.

Looking back she's a little amazed at how unflappable she was.

"I was a farm girl who infrequently visited New Richmond, let alone St. Paul," she said.

Degree in hand, Goodwin moved back home and got a job working in the surgery department at Holy Family as an instrument nurse.

"The doctor says hemostat, you slap it into his hand," she said.

As it would be for much of her career, Goodwin learned on the job.

"I had on-the-job-training," she recalled. "They needed somebody in surgery. The instrument nurse, he had that training as a medic in the service. So it became his job to train me."

After a summer at Holy Family, Mary took a job working at Apple River Valley Memorial Hospital in Amery. She got married and eventually took a job at the Gables.

When a friend told her that the clinic in New Richmond was considering hiring a full-time nurse, she investigated. Dr. James Craig hired her as the first ever nurse at the clinic and so began a 32-year love affair. At the time, the clinic had three doctors, Craig, Louis Weisbrod and Joseph Armstrong. Aside from time off for the birth of her son and daughter, Goodwin became a fixture at the clinic.

The growing clinic recruited Melby as a general practitioner in 1968. He asked Goodwin if she would be his nurse.

"Dr. Melby had one of the office gals call me. I thought, OK, I'll work for a few years and that lasted 30 years," she said.

"That was great news to me," Melby said. "She came down and we had a little training together with the various people that we used for general surgery, post-op care and getting people ready, that kind of thing. With all of her experience, Mary was well versed in nursing. Mary was a real great help to me."

Melby said Goodwin was a good nurse to have on his team.

"Mary was always very respectful of patients. She was very empathetic," he said. "Of course we both knew a lot of the people in town having both grown up in this community. It was a special relationship that we shared with our patients."

Goodwin recalled that nursing has changed a lot through the years.

"I remember being excited when the gal who was the head of the clinic bought cotton balls," she said. "I had been making cotton balls (by hand) pulling it out of the box and tearing off pieces to make the balls."

Computers were not as welcome as cotton balls, however.

"It always got more complicated," she said. "They stick out in my mind, because I wasn't planning on being there when they went to computers. I put up with them for almost three years. Give me a paper chart any day."

Even though she's now retired, Goodwin still gets up at 6:15 a.m. each morning -- old habits.

"So far it seems like vacation. It hasn't really sunk in yet," she said. "I've already gotten started volunteering with the church... and the CEO reminded me there's lots of volunteer opportunities there as well."

She's looking forward to catching up on her reading and though she hasn't made any big plans, she's looking forward to a trip to Arizona to see her grandson graduate this spring. She plans to stay in the home she's lived in since 1963.

"I like going to the store where someone says, 'Hi Mary,'" she said. "I'm going to miss all the people I worked with and knowing what's going on with them in their lives."