SMC scholarship honors early nursing graduate

Published 2:16 pm Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ruth Ann “Red” Nash, who died June 14 at 68, served as president of the first Southwestern Michigan College School of Practical Nursing class in 1967.

Her vice president and lifelong friend, Gay (Dewey) Papoi of Florida, is among classmates establishing a memorial scholarship.

Award of the one-time Ruth Nash Memorial Scholarship to a nursing student who resides in Cass County can take place in spring 2016 or fall 2017.

If anyone else wishes to donate, funds can be added to the current scholarship or another can be established for the next semester.

Contact Eileen Toney at (269) 782-1301 or for more information.

Nash, a 1965 Dowagiac Union High School graduate, died at Lee Memorial Hospital, where she was already an aide when SMC opened in 1966.

Nash was Papoi’s “best friend in the world” from fourth grade, through high school and college and when they worked together at Dowagiac Nursing Home.

Nash, who also worked for Cass County Medical Care Facility and Silverbrook Rehabilitation and Nursing Care Center in Niles, “was a joy to be around, funny and kept everyone in stitches,” Papoi said.

Their parents were well-acquainted growing up because of stock car racing in Hartford and South Bend, Ind. Red’s dad, Ernie Nash, was a driver.

They weren’t neighbors — Red lived across from the water tower and Gay resided on Peavine Street — but they were inseparable.

“We clicked,” Papoi said. “She was like a sister.”

Red, who survived ovarian cancer in her 30s, often worked third shifts to keep her family centered in her life.

She was survived by: her partner of 45 years, Jim Hartman; four sons, Jeffrey “Jeff” (Lisa Weaver), Tobin “Toby” (Heather), James “Jimmy” and Anthony “Tony” Nash, all of Dowagiac; a brother, William (Kathy) Nash of Decatur; and four grandchildren, Cooper, Erica, Jade and Zoie.

Two daughters, Jamie Lynn and Angel Marie, preceded Nash in death.

“Her kids always came first,” Papoi said. “We remained best friends forever and talked twice a week.”

For Red’s last birthday April 15, Gay gave her a pinkie ring etched with acknowledgement of their forever friendship.

Red’s hair was “like Ronald McDonald’s,” which seemed fitting for the way she liked clowning with patients to put them at ease.

She exhibited that calming trait at SMC, spending inordinate amounts of time with four classmates in their 40s who struggled juggling schoolwork with their husbands, children and households.

“It broke my heart when she died,” said Papoi, whose grief caused her to skip their 50-year class reunion.

During their 45-year reunion in 2010, the two women returned to tour the much larger campus together.

Twenty women from Dowagiac, Cassopolis, Edwardsburg, Marcellus, Decatur, Lawton, Berrien Center, Buchanan, South Haven and Paw Paw were capped in the first class on Sunday, Feb. 5, 1967, at the Federated Church in Dowagiac.

Eileen Parks, director of the School of Practical Nursing, welcomed graduates presented by instructor Myra Melvin.

While Nash was employed at Dowagiac Nursing Home until it closed, Papoi lived in Buchanan when her husband worked at Clark Equipment Co.

Papoi as a girl attended St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, led by founding trustee Father William P.D. O’Leary, for whom SMC’s science building is named.

She moved to northern Florida in 1998 and lives 35 miles from Gainesville.

Papoi retired once, but is occupational health manager for a 1,600-employee food processing plant, JBS USA.

While Papoi can remember when she and Nash dreamed of becoming “movie stars or rock stars,” when SMC came along, nursing school lured them away from the hospital.

Their credential meant “we’d get to wear one of those little hats they don’t wear anymore,” Papoi said.