Nursing home ‘like an extended family’ to Connie
By Sandy Bond
Passionate about history and with a deep respect for the elders who lived it, Connie Hepper found her calling in rural health care as a records clerk at the Golden LivingCenter.
Not dry or abstract at all, she believes history is passing of the baton of wisdom to the next generation. It should be cherished.
Verbal history is a starting point, she said, but it must be written down or it can be lost forever.
Someone was farsighted enough to chronicle the early years of the City of Bridges’ medical heritage: the old Railroad Hospital, the Lowe Hospital, the Mobridge Hospital and Mobridge Care Center, and pioneer physicians Drs. Lowe, Nolan, Spiry and Wolf. She said, “I just kept it going.”
From pioneer stock, grandparents George and Christine Sulze and Frank Sr. and Carrie Gosch immigrated in the early 1900s from Prussia, a German monarchy. Her grandparents homesteaded in Dakota territory.
Connie’s parents, Frank and Lydia, fell in love after meeting at a Lawrence Welk concert at the Selby Opera House, married, and raised six children: Connie and elder brothers Gene and Lester and younger brothers Dale, Kenny and Dean. They grew up on a farm six miles southeast of Mobridge, a stone’s throw from Old Evarts, now inundated by the waters of the Missouri. Looking across the bay, Frank recalled hearing stories about Old Evarts by the old timers. In addition to farming, Lydia and Frank built New Evarts into a burgeoning resort that began with just a bait shop, she said.
Connie began her academic career walking more than a mile to the Kennedy School. She transferred to Gle ham Elementary School from the fourth through seventh grade, and then the Selby School District.
“Gene and Lester wanted to play football, and the Glenham Eagles didn’t have a football team,” she said. “We piled into the big old green Mercury. There weren’t school buses in those days.”
Subsequently, they transferred back to Glenham High School in the 1960s, because the younger boys didn’t want to play football, she said.
Connie worked part-time in the school office.
Graduating from Glenham High School in 1960, she became a nurse’s aide in the obstetrics ward at the old Mobridge Hospital on Grand Crossing.
“We were a 50-bed hospital and I remember it was so busy,” she said. Some of the newly admitted were waiting in the halls. Women would have a maternity stay of five days. Today it’s little more than a day and a half. After surgery then, patients stayed in bed for five days. Today, patients are up and walking the day after surgery.
At that time, the extended care center or nursing home was located in the basement of the hospital, she said.
Later she transferred to the emergency ward located on the main floor.
“We saw so many terrible illnesses, where today there are vaccines that can prevent them,” she said. “Also, horrendous farm accidents before OSHA mandated changes in farm equipment safety standards and before the government mandated seat belt usage.”
She and Ronald, a member of the Mobridge Police Department, fell in love and were married in 1962. Ronald changed careers and was service manager at Coca-Cola Bottling. Connie took a brief leave of absence to stay home with their children: Annette, Clark, Jill and Denise. Connie returned to the workforce as a nurse’s aide at the Mobridge Care Center in1974, and began in medical records in 1978, becoming manager a year later.
The Mobridge Care Center was purchased by Beverly Enterprises in 1984, and became the Golden LivingCenter in 2006.
“Working 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day allowed Ron and I to attend all our children’s school activities,” she said.
And this continues as she and Ron are their grandkids’ most enthusiastic cheering section.
“It’s amazing. Once a resident’s charts would fill a typical binder,” she said. “Today, it just about fills a filing cabinet drawer.”
“Changes in technology and pharmaceuticals have resulted in increased life expectancy, and every sniffle of our residents is recorded,” she said.
Dean and his wife Linda still farm on the original farmstead, she said.
“Driving through the countryside, you see so many abandoned farmstead and can’t help but wonder who lived there and why was it abandoned,” she said.
“Linda is an incredible gardener, and the farm is kept so nice,” she said. “I’m so thankful that I can still go home to the farm.”
At 72, Connie doesn’t see herself retiring.
“I feel so privileged to be able to be a part of the residents’ lives,” she said. “We’re like an extended family. It’s been great to work at the center for 37 ½ years.”
And if she ever does retire on paper, she plans to volunteer, passing her wisdom to the next generation.