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A final hurrah for Mack School of Nursing alumni

The Mack Alumni Association held its last gala, honouring the Class of 1974, the last class to graduate from the former Mack Schools of Nursing in St. Catharines.

A gala affair at Club Italia on Friday marked the end of a group that has existed for 123 years in Niagara — the Mack Alumni Association. The event honoured the Class of 1974, the last class to graduate 50 years ago from the former Mack Schools of Nursing in St. Catharines. The schools of nursing existed for 100 years, from 1874-1974, and there were 1862 graduates over that period.

The alumni has, for many years, hosted a gala evening to honour every class that had graduated on their 50th anniversary. Every year, piper Gary Cooper attends to pipe the class being honoured into the hall to their seats at the head table, others attending clapping and cheering them in as they parade by.

Sixty-three RNs were honoured in this fashion at the final anniversary with a complimentary meal. This year, they were pleased to have Todd Melville (son of Jan Melville, Class of 1972) dressed as a young Dr. Theophilus Mack. He was accompanied by Claudia Gilchrist (Class of 1973) dressed  as Hannah Dalby, in the school’s first uniform.

For some time, the alumni association has provided two or more yearly scholarships to nursing students who were descendants of a Mack grad and enrolled in a RN program. During that period more than $57,000 has been given in these scholarships. Donations have also gone for hospital equipment purchases, the building of the new St. Catharines hospital site and a special care garden at the  Linhaven Long Term Care and Wellness Centre.

The association is not finished assisting future nurses. Money raised from fundraising, yearly dues and private donations from members have allowed the alumni to provide a continuing Scholarship for RN nursing students into perpetuity to both Brock University and Niagara College. The gala event was attended by representatives of both of these institutions that provide nurse education and training.

In attendance virtually was Leigh Chapman, chief nursing officer of Canada, who gave words of congratulations to all the Mack Schools of Nursing graduates and thanked them for their contributions to the nursing profession and the communities in which they worked.

The  Registered Nurses Association of Ontario congratulated the alumni in their monthly publication. And last month, MPP Jennie Stevens of St. Catharines spoke in the Ontario Legislature at Queen’s Park of the Mack Schools of Nursing’s contributions to the nursing profession and thanked them for their years of service.

Also in attendance at the gala was Kathleen Powell of the St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canal Centre who spoke of the collection of Mack memorabilia and records that now are held in that institution. Those in attendance learned of the ongoing work to document, catalogue and digitize this collection, which can now be viewed on the museum’s website.

It was a memorable moment as MAA President Betty Ann Chandler (Class of 1970) banged the gavel at the last meeting, bringing an era of nursing in Niagara to an end, and handing the gavel to Kathleen Powell from the museum.