Betty Hoke Fernelius
Interviewed by Marci Farr
14 September 2010
Oral History Program
Weber State University
Betty Hoke Fernelius
14 September 2010
Copyright © 2010 by Weber State University, Stewart Library
The Oral History Program of the Stewart Library was created to preserve the institutional history of Weber
State University and the Davis, Ogden and Weber County communities. By conducting carefully
researched, recorded, and transcribed interviews, the Oral History Program creates archival oral histories
intended for the widest possible use.
Interviews are conducted with the goal of eliciting from each participant a full and accurate account of
events. The interviews are transcribed, edited for accuracy and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewees
(as available), who are encouraged to augment or correct their spoken words. The reviewed and
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available. Archival copies are placed in Special Collections. The Stewart Library also houses the original
recording so researchers can gain a sense of the interviewee's voice and intonations.
The St. Benedict’s School of Nursing was founded in 1947 by the Sisters of Mount Benedict. The school
operated from April 1947 to 1968. Over the forty-one year period, the school had 605 students and 357
graduates. In 1966, the program became the basis for Weber State College’s Practical Nursing Program.
This oral history project was created to capture the memories of the graduates and to add to the history of
nursing education in Ogden. The interviews focus on their training, religion, and experiences working
with doctors, nurses, nuns, and patients at St. Benedict’s Hospital. This project received funding from the
Utah Humanities Council and the Utah Division of State History.
Oral history is a method of collecting historical information through recorded interviews between a
narrator with firsthand knowledge of historically significant events and a well-informed interviewer, with
the goal of preserving substantive additions to the historical record. Because it is primary material, oral
history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete narrative of events. It is a spoken
account. It reflects personal opinion offered by the interviewee in response to questioning, and as such it
is partisan, deeply involved, and irreplaceable.
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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Betty Hoke Fernelius, an oral history by
Marci Farr, 14 September 2010, WSU
Stewart Library Oral History Program,
Special Collections, Stewart Library, Weber
State University, Ogden, UT.
Betty Hoke Fernelius
Class of 1950
Betty Hoke Fernelius
Abstract: This is an oral history interview with Betty Hoke Fernelius, conducted by
Marci Farr and Sarah Langsdon, on September 14, 2010. In this interview, Betty
discusses her recollections and experiences with the St. Benedict’s School of
MF: This is Marci Farr. We are interviewing Betty Hoke Fernelius. She graduated in
1950 from the St. Benedicts School of Nursing. It is September 14, 2010. We
are interviewing her via telephone. Where do you live at?
BF: I live in San Carlos, California.
MF: San Carlos, that’s right.
BF: Just between San Francisco and San Jose.
MF: Okay. Will you just share with us a little bit about where you grew up and a little
bit about your family and where you attended school at?
BF: I was born in 1929 in Denver, Colorado. My mother and father were both widow
and widower and they married January 16, 1929. By November when I was born,
they had already split up. It was second family...he had girls and my mother had
teenage sons so it just didn’t work. It was during the Depression too and you
know, things were kind of....so that’s where I stand as far as...my mother raised
me and it was difficult during the Depression, very difficult in fact. She never did
have a lot of money, so that’s how I ended up in the long run coming to St.
I had two half sisters on my father’s side whom I talk to occasionally but
that is it. My mother’s children when she married my father-she had three boys
and a daughter. The nearest one to me was eight years and the others were a
sister that is ten years older and two brothers in their teens. All of my family is
dead now so I’m an orphan.
MF: You are the orphan, oh. What made you decide to become a nurse?
BF: Well, I went to school with Imogene (xxx) who is also a student. She had left
Utah and went back to her native Illinois with her parents. That was during my
junior year so I didn’t see her then. They moved back for her senior year.
Imogene has wanted to be a nurse all her life from the very beginning of
anything, a nurse is what she wanted to be. So I knew I was probably not going
to be able to go for anything and she was so adamant about being a nurse so I
thought, well I’ll be a nurse too. So that’s what made me decide.
MF: Well that’s good. So why did you like St. Benedict’s? Was it because it was
BF: No, what happened was she and I, after we got out of high school, I had to go to
summer school to pick up some course credits. I moved from Denver and
somehow the credits didn’t work out and I had to go to summer school. I didn’t
know about it and then I met one of the office girls in Kaysville, where I lived, it’s
a small town. She told me I was going to have trouble. I knew I had to go to
summer school, so I did and I got my credit. Now, the Dee Hospital offered a
nursing scholarship to Davis High students but they started in August and I think I
probably would have had that because I was on the honor roll and as it turned
out some very nice little Japanese girl got it. I don’t know whether she was on it
or not, but she got the scholarship. I couldn’t have gotten it anyhow because I
didn’t have anything done.
MF: So Elsie Okamota?
BF: Yeah, I think so.
MF: Sarah just saw her today.
BF: Oh really? She was a really neat girl. There were a lot of Japanese kids there
and they’re parents were mostly farmers.
MF: Thank you for sharing that with us. What were your first impressions when you
entered nurses training? Was this your first time away from home?
BF: Yeah, away from home to live. The way it came about was, Imogene and I went
everywhere we could think of. We even tried the army because they had had the
cadet nurses. We thought maybe there was something that we could do. But that
was gone and you couldn’t do it. That was a neat deal, boy. One day, Mildred
Freeman, our friend brought the Ogden paper to us and on the back of the page
was a little tiny ad that said the nuns at St. Benedict’s would take students into
the nursing school on a loan or scholarship. It was $250.00 and you could go
through on that and when you were finished you would pay it back. So we
technically paid for our own education but that’s the opportunity we got then. I will
be forever grateful for that.
So the very next day, she and I went up and saw Sister Mary Margaret
and told her we wanted to be roommates and she wasn’t sure that was a good
idea but she conceded. We went straight downtown to the doctor and got our
shots. They made me very sick, I remember. Imogene and I and Laura Brown
and Dorothy Thompson and Ethel Benson and Rosalynd George were the ones
that were left out of, I think, twelve that came in in January. The class had
already come in September. We were going to go to summer school to make up
the classes that the girls in September had already had so we could all graduate
together. The only difference would be that our finishing date would be different.
They were through in June, probably right after graduation, and we would go on
until the last part of December. Our dates varied depending on whether we took
our vacation or not. Imogene did not take her vacation so she finished two weeks
earlier than I did. I got out the 29th of November.
MF: Well, that’s great. Were you roommates with Imogene the whole time?
MF: Did you get along really well?
BF: We were very good friends and we’re really tangled up by marriage too. I don’t
know if you want that story right now or not.
MF: Go ahead.
BF: Into my second year, in July, someone came in and wanted to know if I wanted to
go on a blind date that night. I was in the special diet kitchen and at the time I
told her I was a mess, leaning over the steam table getting the special diets out
and stuff like that. But she talked me into it so I got ready that night. We were
going to go up the canyon. I looked out the window to see who was coming. I
was interested because after he mentioned his name-Imogene was going with a
boy named Glen Fernelius Marshka and his middle name was Fernelius. I
thought that was the craziest name and I wanted to go out with someone who’s
name was Fernelius. I said, “I got to see this.” As it turns out Keith’s cousin is
Glen’s mother. So his father and Glen’s mother’s father were brothers. That
meant that when we got married, Keith and I, and when Imogene and Glen got
married, that made us second cousins by marriage.
MF: Well, there you go.
BF: So we stayed in contact all these years. It’s a permanent friendship.
MF: That’s a great thing. So do you have any other stories that you remember about
Imogene or your other classmates that happened while you were in training?
BF: Well, I better finish mine I guess. I met Keith in July, it was just past his birthday,
the 19th of July. I saw that man and I had to have him. That was it. As it turned
out it really blossomed then. Of course, we couldn’t get married then. Keith was
twenty nine and I was nineteen at the time. This relationship was not like it is
today where you can just do as you please morally. We didn’t. Sometime in
December he says, “Well, why don’t we get married.” And I said well how about
the end of the year, December 31st, over that weekend. So we planned to go to
Elko and get married and keep it secret for a year! Imogene knew what I was
doing but nobody else. So we did! We were married in Elko, Nevada, December
We agreed that nothing would change in our behavior. We would be very
careful and if we even needed to go out with somebody else, to keep our secret,
then we would. Nothing went wrong until August. Keith’s mother’s sister, an aunt,
was in Elko, Nevada to visit a cousin. Keith told me he had a cousin but we didn’t
think anything about it because we had asked them not to print anything in the
paper. So they didn’t print anything in the Ogden paper but they did print it in the
Elko paper. His cousin saw but kept it to herself for some reason because she
was confused that she hadn’t heard anything. Bless her heart. So Keith’s aunt
comes back and doesn’t go to Keith’s mother, her sister, but she tells her
daughter and her son. This is about August or September. Roy, his cousin, went
to Don something, who Ethel was going with and he told him about this. So Ethel
comes to me in November and says that she heard I got married. I denied it.
Then I got to thinking that she’s my friend and I would have a better chance of
her keeping my secret that I have of not telling her and her going and telling
somebody else. So I took her in my confidence and she said that she wouldn’t
say anything. So nobody found it out. I think I only told Sister Berno after
because she and I had become friends in a way. She was crazy about Keith. So
that’s the story and it’s a miracle nobody found out.
MF: That is a great story and it’s a good thing nobody found out because you would
have been kicked out.
BF: Oh yeah. Now Norah was married and had children when she came in. She had
to live with the nuns while her husband and children moved in with her parents.
They did take her but it was very strict conditions.
MF: What do you remember about the sisters?
BF: I remember our first night there. We were nothing but giggles because things
were so strange for us. I’m not Catholic and neither is Imogene and so this was
all new to us. It didn’t take long for us to learn that there was no giggling and no
silliness. They were very protective of the students which I have been forever
thankful for. They wanted us to stay on a serious road and taught us that it
means a lot and it was a job to do and we had to do it their way. But they were
fun too. I remember that we went out and climbed trees once on Arbor Day and
they’d come out and play ball with us too. They’d reach down and pull their habits
up and pin them on their chest so they could run around the bases just like we
did. They loved parties. You had to have a formal dance and they liked nothing
better than to see us all dressed up in formal dresses. They liked to have fun.
MF: That’s fun to see that because I don’t think that would be a normal perception of
BF: No. But they were all business too. I have never in my life had a teacher better
than Sister Estelle’s. I was on the honor roll in high school. When we took
chemistry and we were partners and they let partners use their books for tests,
we both had a terrible time. He let us come in after school for extra work and he
gave us a C-. He did pass us. If we hadn’t had good grades that would have
made a difference. Within a week in Sister Sill’s chemistry class, it was like a
curtain was drawn and it was just perfectly clear. I knew exactly what to do and
how to balance equations and I thought that is the difference between a teacher
and a good teacher.
MF: That does make a difference if you can understand what they’re trying to explain.
BF: Yes, she was really something. They all were. The only one that all of us had a
problem with was Sister Mary Gerald. She taught something like ethics and
everybody failed the test. In my mind, I didn’t feel that was right. We had to do
extra work and she did pass everybody after that. But the other nuns were
wonderful teachers. The doctor’s gave our lectures on everything. Miss Barton,
she’s the one in the picture in the paper with the cute little cap with the black
stripe around it, she graduated.
MF: So is that Jean Barton?
MF: We just interviewed her yesterday.
BF: Did you?
BF: She, to me, is the perfect nurse. She dresses just meticulously. She graduated
from Massachusetts General which is probably the best nursing school in the
country. Her uniform was always perfect, never a spot on it. She wore cuffs up
over her long sleeves like the nuns do. She was just a beautiful person. She was
so kind and nice. Miss Camira was more business-like but was still an excellent
person too. Anything we did to the patient in the line of treatments we had to do
to each other. The Levine tube to put down for suction, we swallowed the Levine
tube. Everybody did but one girl. There was another army nurse, a black nurse,
on a medical floor. She had been in the army too and she was again, very
meticulous about her appearance. She was more withdrawn than Miss Camira.
Miss Camira was very nice.
MF: What would you do with your classmates if you had a night off?
BF: We only had one day a week off. Up to the time we got our caps, we had every
weekend, but after that, we had one day a week off. Even if you had the day off
you still had to go to classes. On Saturday and Sunday we worked eight hours. It
was split shift. The morning and the afternoon. If you were on nights, you worked
the night shift, you came home and slept a little bit but then had to be up by ten
for classes. You stopped at 11:30 for lunch and a nap if you were lucky and back
at two or one for classes. At three you’d go back for afternoon care. Sometimes
we had night lectures so you slept maybe two or three hours a day. It’s not like
that now. They soon decided that you couldn’t do that. Our training was different
but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We got the best and we learned a lot. We
were given a lot of responsibility. In the course of a year we were already on
night shift on the medical floor. We had to have six months on the medical floor,
six months on the surgical floor, and a lot of months on OB. We did six weeks in
the diet kitchen, eight weeks in surgery, two weeks in the formula lab and three
or four months in the psychiatric unit.
MF: Which was your favorite of the rotations?
BF: OB. I ended up a nursery nurse. After I finished I worked six months at the LDS
Hospital as a graduate nurse because we didn’t take our state boards until March
and we didn’t find out about them until May or June. So it was six months we
were working for $190.00 a month. Imogene was in pediatrics and I was in the
nursery. My husband and I were having a heck of a time making it because he
was on the GI Bill and going to school at the University. Then he went down
looking for a job after he finished his post graduate work at the training school in
American Fork. Do you know about that?
MF: I’ve never heard of that.
BF: In American Fork, the state has a training school for mentally retarded children
and adults. No babies. They are dependants of the state. When they found out I
was a nurse, he was hired. I went down there. There were 800 patients. I was
just barely a registered nurse. The nurse there was pregnant and she was
leaving and she was the only one. I worked that way, the only one, on call, every
night of my life, in the five years that I was there.
MF: To deal with 800 patients.
BF: Anything that happened-I was it. I did everything there. I diagnosed. I would give
medication. We had a lot of epileptics. If they went into status, which is one
seizure after another and it doesn’t stop, I’m the one that went over and stopped
it with the medication. If a kid put his fist through the window and cut his arm, I
sewed him. I was good too. That’s the kind of thing I did down there. My husband
always wanted to get down to the Bay Area and when San Mateo County’s
supervisor came to University of Utah to recruit, he had a very good friend who
was a professor there and she called Keith and said they’re hiring if you want to
come up and check this. So he went up and they were glad to get him. By this
time he had five years experience. So that’s when we came. It would have been
July of 1956 or 1957.
Now, where were we? I got a couple stories. One of them may not be allowed.
MF: Oh come on. We like the ones that aren’t allowed. You’ve got to tell that story.
BF: Okay, I was working on a medical floor. I’m a student nurse, nineteen years old.
We did baths in those days. If they were in the hospital they got a bed bath. They
didn’t go to a shower or something. I had this man in room 202 I’ll never forget.
He was by himself in the room. I was bathing him and there’s a certain way that
you bathe them. When you get ready to do their legs, you bring the blanket over
and you tuck it in around so nothing is seen as far as the man’s genitalia. As I
was tucking the blanket around to wash his leg, he looked at me and he said,
“What’s the matter? Are you afraid you going to touch something?” [laughter] I
don’t know what type of family he had or where he came from but I just left the
room and I was almost in tears. I was naive enough that I knew what he said was
wrong but not exactly.
I went to the desk to Sister Cassian who was the supervisor (she a
beautiful woman, the most beautiful nun I’d ever seen) and she wanted to know
what was the matter. I told her what he’d said to me and down she goes to Sister
Mary Margaret’s office. Sister Mary Margaret came up and if you’ve ever known
Sister Mary Margaret, you’d know you don’t tangle with her because she was the
administrator of the world. She could do everything. Like at Christmas if we got a
present, it was because she’d talked some business into giving it to us. Our
flowers at graduation or when we got married she got donated from the florist.
That’s just the type of person she was.
She walked into that room and she dressed him down and told him that
she was responsible for sixty some women that were our ages, and she said this
is something that we don’t tolerate and I hate to think that any man in Ogden
would do this. She said, “You call your family and tell them to come get you
because you’re not staying in this hospital. You can go to Dee.” He begged her
and he begged her to please, please let him stay. He said he’d apologize but she
wouldn’t let me in the room. After she said, “Well, you’re going home. I’m talking
to the doctor and you’re going out of here as soon as you can go. There will not
be another student nurse in here to take care of you. You’ll be taken care of by
the orderlies.” Well, we only had one orderly and that was Bob and he worked
with us. So he got his care during the day, but except for his care, the student
nurses didn’t go in there anymore. That’s the type of protection that we got.
MF: So did you have any rotations?
BF: No, our last year they had a couple of openings at the (xxx). We were about
finished but Rosalynd George and Laura Brown got to take it. I think probably
because their parents paid their tuition right away and we owed ours still. But as
far as disease, we did have the polio epidemic there. We took care of polio
patients. We had no problem with that part of our training to get that experience.
Also, for psychiatry, Doctor O’Garman had the psychiatric unit on a private
patient basis in the basement. They had anywhere from, I think maybe, ten to
fifteen or twenty patients at a time. In those days they were on insulin treatment
which is not done now.
MF: That’s true. Did that kind of procedure make you nervous?
BF: No. You do what you do. I’m surprised what nineteen year olds can do. We were
there either with another student at night or we were there in the daytime to be
oriented. At four thirty we would start and we’d draw up the insulin and some of
them would get shock treatment. At 5:30 we would give the ones that just got
insulin, insulin. There was a lock up room down the hall for a person who might
be hard to handle. The doctor told us when we were there the first time, never to
turn our back on the patients. And then at 4:30 we’d go in and put a waist
restraint on them that’s hooked to the bed and we’d take their temperature and
we’d check their vital signs every fifteen minutes. By the time we left at seven
they’d be out and in convulsions some of them. At seven the ones that got the
electric shock, the doctor would bring his little black box for. I was there for some
of those-he’d have everybody there when he was doing it because it takes
everybody to throw yourself over the person- one over the knees, one over the
chest, one over the middle and then he’d hit the button and a second would go
by and then a wham! and they’d stiffen. Then they’d start to shake and it would
wear down and that was it. Then the day people would pass a Levine tube and
give them Glyco, they called it, it was a sugar that you mix so many ounces of
that with so many ounces of coffee. Then you’d tube that stuff in them. It’s a
predigested sugar more or less so it absorbs very quickly. When they’d come
around then they’d have a shower and then a big breakfast. It was awful when
you think of it.
MF: How long where you doing the psych training?
BF: I think it was no more than four months. Colleen Creedon was in there with me.
She was the next class to come in. She was a lot of fun. We were there at
Christmas time and we had a lady down in lock up. The funny thing is, she was in
Keith’s parents ward, and she was nuttier than a fruitcake and really out of it. She
was thinking her husband was cheating on her and she’d put a ladder to the
house and go up and look in the windows and just crazy stuff. She was down
there too and was hard to handle. I remember Colleen and I would go down with
her meals and sit with her while she ate. It was Christmas so we thought we’d do
her hair and we put curlers in. When we checked she had taken them out and
was flushing them down the toilet and dipping her head in the toilet. It was awful!
MF: Oh, that’s not good.
BF: We recorded that but very carefully. The doctor would want to know that. We had
a young man just out of high school and he was very handsome and very strong
and athletic. He was six foot tall-a man in a young man’s body. The doctor said to
watch him very closely. We did but nothing happened. I remember we had a hard
time getting him under with the insulin and it took almost four hundred units of
insulin to put him in a depth three which is the level of consciousness that we
wanted them. That had to be hard, you know?
MF: Wow. That is so interesting.
BF: He told us on the electric shock machine, that the Japanese started doing it for
the mentally ill. The way they did it was they just hooked them up to a regular
electric cord and then plugged them in to the wall and jerk it out. I’m not kidding
you! You can imagine. We had scarlet fever that had run through there too and
by that time I had trained one of the ladies who was very smart. We got through a
scarlet fever epidemic. Of course, penicillin takes care of that. That’s all we had
at that time.
MF: Scary stuff-just having primitive treatments.
BF: I know. I think we had the most unique and the best education that you could
have possibly had. You were prepared to handle anything.
MF: You were trained in every part of the hospital.
BF: Yes. While, I’m thinking of this- I’ll tell you know before I forget. I was working at
Sequoia, a hospital in Redwood City for twenty two years in the nursery and the
OB. Up in the nursery one night a nurse came in, a young lady, and she had a
cap on. Of course, a lot of people wear that because it’s one you can get out of a
catalogue. Ours were a little different. The ones that the nuns made were nicer
than the ones that you buy. This young lady walks in and as I get closer to her I
said you’re from St. Benedict’s in Ogden? She said yes. So that’s the only time I
ever run into a classmate or a person from St. Benedict’s. It was about that time I
realized most of the young ones I was working with- that I was old enough to be
their mother. That was a hard one to take too when that suddenly dawned on me.
MF: That would be. So where was your graduation held?
BF: The capping was held at the chapel at the hospital there. We came in and it was
done by the nuns and they gave you your cap. The graduation was done at the
Catholic Church and I don’t remember the name.
MF: St. Joseph’s?
BF: The Bishop from Salt Lake was there too. We had our capes by then, which my
daughter later used when she was in college to wear around to keep her warm.
She took all the stuff off of it and it’s hanging in my closet now. Anyhow, we had
our capes and we marched from the hospital with the flowers in our arms all the
way down to the church. Then we went up and they called your names and you
went up in front of the Bishop and he’d say something. That was kind of difficult
for me because we had to kiss his ring. I did it. They didn’t force us to go to
church or anything like that. I was going downtown to the church and I’m not a
Mormon either. I was going down to the Baptist church. Now I’m sorry to say, I’m
an Atheist. I don’t go anywhere.
MF: So that was probably wonderful to be done with your nurses training and
graduate and be able to wear your cap proudly.
BF: Yes. We were taught you never wear your cap outside in the streets or
anywhere. You keep it at work. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen- I
don’t think they wear them anymore. My daughter is a registered nurse and she
works up in the city at California Medical Center and they don’t wear uniforms or
anything. They wear scrubs. Before I left Sequoia I was still wearing my cap and
the uniform. I was in Peds though. In the nursery we put on scrubs but we did
wear our caps.
MF: So when did you retire from nursing?
BF: I don’t remember the exact date to tell you the truth. It was somewhere around
1976. I did private duty. I didn’t want to work full time or nights anymore. I worked
nights most of my life. I did private duty where I was just up the street from where
I live now- a little negro boy that was handicapped and couldn’t walk and was in
there for twenty minutes. But it was November and it was freezing cold, but he
made it. He has a speech impediment and he can’t walk and he only has use of
his right arm. But he’s got a lot in that head. He’s probably pushing forty now. I
haven’t been there for a long time. Anyhow, I worked there for ten years until it
got too big for me to handle. That was it. My husband and I took up golf and we
built and house and used to go up and play golf all the time. Anyhow, that was
the end of the nursing.
MF: Well, that’s good. We appreciate you sharing your story with us.
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