Exploring music and nursing inspired a career
Anita Hett Brookens, Marion High School class of 1970, said her interests in both music and nursing, explored during her years at Marion High School, led to a life where both interests were used.
Brookens worked as a candy striper for several years while a student. She also took a lot of music classes in school.
She loved both.
“I feel I got a really good education at Marion,” she said. “Little did I know when I was taking math courses I would need math so much in nursing.”
The school music department was top notch, Brookens said.
Her home economics teacher also made sure her students learned a rounded assortment of skills.
“I appreciate the well-roundedness that I had when I left high school,” she said. “There were some very fine teachers in my high school years that I really give thanks for.”
After graduation, she enrolled at Southwestern College in Winfield to study.
Nursing schools quickly began recruiting her.
“In the 70s there was a nursing shortage, so I knew I would always have a job,” Brookens said. “I had a number of visits from representatives of nursing schools.”
She went to Wesley School of Nursing in Wichita, the state’s premier nursing school.
She opted for a two-year nursing program instead of a four-year program.
“I did not want the office work in nursing,” she said. “I wanted hands-on nursing.”
She graduated in 1973 and took a job in a 50-bed cancer center at Wesley.
“It was very challenging to work with people, many of whom were terminal,” Brookens said. “I really got pretty close to some of the patients and their relatives — especially those who were spending real time in the hospital because they were so sick.”
Working with the families of terminal patients and helping them get through the last days with their loved ones taught Brookens much about being a caring, compassionate person.
“It was so gratifying, and challenging at the same time,” she said.
She was at Wesley two years, until her then-husband was transferred to Stockton in 1975.
“There’s no hospital there, but there was a nursing home that needed a director of nursing,” Brookens said.
Not only did Stockton have no hospital, Rooks County had no county health department.
When the county decided to start a health department, she became its director, but was still director of nursing at the nursing home.
The health department developed immunization clinics, blood pressure clinics, and other programs needed by the community.
“I guess not many nurses can lay claim to being the first county health nurse in their county,” Brookens said.
She moved back to Marion in 1978, and worked for Marion County Health Department part-time.
Later she became director of nursing at a Florence nursing home.
After marrying her husband, Bob, she became administrator of a Marion nursing home.
When their first child was born, she gave up the administrative position.
“Here and there I would help out with things going on in the community,” Brookens said. “By the time my kids were in school, all of the kids were participating in just about everything. We made the most of me being able to be at home.”
She was hired to be an accompanist at the high school. That fulfilled her high school desire to work with both nursing and music.
The class of 1970 decided not to hold a 45th reunion this year.
“We decided we’re going to wait,” Brookens said. “We had a lot of people from out of state and they didn’t feel comfortable traveling. We just made the ultimate decision to cancel it.”
She said class members hope for a better situation next year.
“We did think about having something next year and calling it ’45 + 1,” she said.
Last modified Sept. 23, 2020