Nurses have reunited in Hamilton for 65 years

After 65 years, graduates of Hamilton General Hospital's nursing class keep meeting in Hamilton.
Mary Gent of Peterborough, Dorthea Eddy of Oakville, Mary Beresford of New Jersey and Kay Adams of Mount Hope share a laugh at the 65th annual reunion of the Hamilton General Hospital nursing class of 1947. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

John F. Kennedy has come and gone. The Korean War came and went. There have been 13 prime ministers and 12 American presidents, and still, the nursing class from Hamilton General Hospital continues to hold its annual reunion.

Each year, the graduating class from 1947 gathers in downtown Hamilton for dinner and reminiscing. Its members are in their late 80s now.

Some are too ill to come and others have died. But this week, during their 65th anniversary reunion, the women say they have no plans to stop.

"We're very proud of ourselves," said Dorthea Eddy of Oakville, who lives in a retirement home and regularly attends the reunion. "I think we're unusual that there's been a reunion every year for 65 years."

Most of the women were 18 when they arrived in Hamilton in 1944. They took a three-year nursing program, living in dorm rooms at Hamilton General.

Kay Adams, 87, came here from a Saskatchewan home where she had no electricity or running water.

"I was a country bumpkin, so it was quite strange to come here," said Adams, who now lives in Mount Hope. "Living in the city, I kept wanting people to get out of my way. It felt too crowded."

The women worked seven days a week as they learned the trade, Eddy said. Some put their lights under their beds to keep studying after lights out. Others snuck out at night and climbed back in using the fire escape.

"We got to be very close, just like sisters," said Ruth Mitchell, 86, of Hamilton. "When we first started training, I was so homesick, but I got over that and carried on."

After 65 years of annual meetings, the women know each other well. Each year, they hear about struggles and victories of their day-to-day lives.

"Some have lost a child or lost their husband," Adams said. "There's been good and bad. We've seen some get excited about their boyfriends and eventually get married. It goes on from there and now here we are asking who has great-grandchildren."

As the attendees mature, so does the conversation, Mitchell said. Now there's more talk of "aches and pains and the illnesses and surgeries we've had. Just daily living."

In addition to being the 65th anniversary, it was the first year classes A and B — who used to have separate reunions — had one together.

One hundred nurses graduated between the two classes and early reunions drew nearly all of them. There were about 24 this week.

The women had dinner at the Sheraton on Wednesday night and took a bus trip on Thursday. And they will be back next year, Eddy said.

The reason is simple. "Because we want to," she said.