Nurses reflect on history of Wishard Hospital


Wishard Hospital has been serving Indianapolis for more than 150 years. It was the first hospital in the city and also established the first school of nursing.

"This was my first home away from home. This was the parlor where we could meet guests or boyfriends. They couldn't go past this line," said Mary Robbins-Nierste.

She has a long history at Wishard Hospital, starting with nursing school in 1973.

"This is where the house mom sat at a wooden desk. She ruled with an iron fist," Mary said.

She went on to become a nurse based in the emergency room. Forty years ago, Mary could have only dreamed of the major transformation the ER would eventually take.

"I often think of the emergency room, because that was my first love, the old room was 12-14 and we're now 110 in the new hospital," she said.

One thing that hasn't changed at Wishard is Myers Auditorium.

"This room is special to me because this is where I received my nursing cap, pin...carried our little Florence Nightingale candles down the aisles," Mary said.

But despite the memories, she acknowledges it's time for a change.

"If you sat in this chair, you'd see what I mean," she said.

"I was born here, I went to school here, I had my first baby here, I had my surgery here, I have been a patient here," said Willa Brooks.

Brooks worked at Wishard for 35 years, also starting with nursing school.

"Wishard was the only one that would accept Afro-American nurses," she said.

Sharon Benefiel was a student under Brooks in the newborn nursery. Their early relationship is preserved in a photo.

"I look at her, the way she's holding the baby and feeding the baby, it's all correct and I feel that I accomplished something. I've passed it on to somebody," Brooks said.

Both have passed on the hospital's rich history through a museum.

"That first class picture is 1922," Benefiel said.

From their own class pictures to numerous artifacts originally used in the hospital, one thing the ladies can attest to is the rapidly-changing technology.

"To be able to keep up with it, carry it over to your patients, help make their life easier and help them understand their health. That's the good part about it," Brooks said.

"We needed a new facility desperately and I'm so glad we have one. It means a lot to the community, our patients. This hospital is really big and it's hard to get around," Benefiel added.

But none of the women are so quick to say goodbye to the old hospital.

"A lot of special moments. I met my husband here," Mary said.

"To me, there will always be a Wishard," said Brooks.

Eskenazi Hospital will officially replace Wishard on Saturday.