JAMESTOWN, NY – Everything is different now.
When this group of five women started at SUNY Jamestown Community College in 1965, the campus consisted of two buildings: Hamilton Collegiate Center and a school building across Falconer Street.
Having graduated in 1966, they were part of JCC’s second nursing class. As they toured campus together recently, they marveled at the changes.
During a reprieve from the intense afternoon heat, Sue Johnson leaned back in a padded chair inside one of the college’s sprawling residential suites. She smiled and said, “I thought they were the good old days.”
Fifty-five years later, little on the JCC campus remains the same. That was no more obvious to the five than when the tour reached the college’s immaculate nursing classrooms and labs.
When they were students, the five practiced on each other. They gave injections to oranges. They labored to crank up the two beds in their archaic nursing labs like old stubborn car windows.
“The labs were nothing like this. This is phenomenal,” said Bonnie Allenson Biondolillo after she looked over JCC’s high tech equipment, computers, and mannequins. “It was rudimentary at best when you compare it to today.”
After graduation, they were thrown into the work of caring for people who entrusted them with their lives. For better or worse, they learned on the job without a safety net.
Each of the five made their careers in nursing. Their profession and their college are the ties that have bound them for life.
Yes, everything is different now, but one thing hasn’t changed over all these years. It’s these five — Johnson, Biondolillo, Elaine Swanson Crossley, Patricia Boberg Forbes, and Pennie Penhollow Harvey — and their connection.
“We’ve been friends since ’65,” Johnson said. “We kept in touch afterwards. Some of us stayed local. I went to Indiana. But whenever I have time and I can come home — this is home — I call Elaine and say I’m coming in, can you set up a reunion? And she does one. And it works.”
They last got together on campus in 2016 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their JCC graduation. During their most recent reunion in late August, they were given a full tour of campus, where they navigated a handful of buildings that didn’t exist when they were students.
They laughed as they posed for a picture behind the steel bars of an imitation jail cell used by criminal justice students. Not missing a beat, they razzed Harvey, who worked for years at Collins Correctional Facility, caring for prisoners during her daily 3-11 p.m. shift.
All five started at local hospitals and worked their way up to management and administrative positions.
Johnson and Biondolillo branched out from nursing, but they maintain their licensing. Johnson earned a doctorate degree and has authored three books on nursing, while Biondolillo earned a master’s degree and opened a private practice counseling office.
Forbes spent 30 years as an emergency room nurse at Westfield Memorial Hospital. Crossley served at Warren General and The Resource Center. Harvey worked in the maternity ward at Tri County Hospital before moving to the correctional facility.
“It’s amazing that we all stayed in nursing,” Johnson said. “I never wanted to do anything else. Even now.”
It all started at JCC, where they wiped away sleepy eyes for 6 a.m. labs and endured tense encounters while caring for psychiatric patients inside the locked wards of Warren State Hospital.
“It’s definitely not like it is now,” Harvey said.
The JCC five from 1966 prevailed nonetheless. Some may need walkers or wheelchairs to get around now. But they are here, and they are together.
As their time on campus was coming to an end, Johnson wished the next class of JCC nursing students well, while acknowledging the challenges that lie ahead. When you think about how the five have stayed close, it’s no surprise that her message featured a theme of unity.
“It’s time for nurses to gain power,” she said. “I would like to see a nurse sit on every hospital board in the country as a voting member. I would like them on community boards as voting members. A staff nurse can do that, as well as a manager. I think we need to gain power, and nursing needs to unify. We’ve never been unified.
“This group is unified,” Johnson added, looking around at her old classmates. “Most groups of nurses, you put them together, they all go different directions. That’s unfortunate, because it’s time. You guys go cease the power. I’m too old to go cease it. It’s your duty.”