Toasting 50 years of MCC’s nursing program with two founding faculty members

Sharon Cook (center) and Rosemary Atkins, two of the four founding faculty members of MCC's nursing program, look through pictures and yearbooks. Rosemary's husband, John, is at left.
Sharon Cook (center) and Rosemary Atkins, two of the four founding faculty members of MCC’s nursing program, look through pictures and yearbooks. Rosemary’s husband, John, is at left.

Rosemary Atkins and Sharon Cook have been away from Metropolitan Community College for years, but just the other night, Atkins dreamed she was back in the classroom as a guest nursing instructor.

Atkins in 1967-68

Could be she’d been ruminating on this year’s big anniversary: MCC, then known as Metropolitan Junior College, launched its two-year nursing program in the fall of 1966 — 50 years ago.

Atkins and Cook were the guests of honor at a luncheon May 20 at MCC-Penn Valley’s Health Science Institute. Naturally, old yearbooks and pictures were on hand.

The two women (seen at right as they appeared in the 1967-68 yearbook) were among the four founding faculty members of our associate degree in nursing program. Atkins, now 80, and Cook, 73, met at what was then known as Research Hospital, where Atkins taught in the nursing program and Cook was a medical-surgical nurse. Atkins also worked part time as a nurse at the old Baptist Hospital.

In the mid-1960s Research had decided to close its nursing school, Atkins said. Adeline Marshall, another nursing instructor, told Atkins she would be starting a nursing program at the junior college.

“I, with much glee, said, ‘Oh can I go with you?’ ” Atkins remembers. “I just followed on her coattails.”

Cook in 1967-68

MCC graduated its first class of nurses in the spring of 1968. Nineteen new nurses were pictured in The Kansas City Star. Among them, Atkins says, were a mother and daughter. And one man, “a bachelor.” Back then, before the Penn Valley campus was built, the nursing program shared space with other programs in the former Safeway grocery store headquarters at 520 Westport Road.

At one point in Atkins’ tenure at MCC, she received “a wonderful surprise”: Though she and husband John thought they weren’t having any more children, she became pregnant. At school she was a “walking lab” for students.

“I would lay down on a gurney and say, “Listen to this heartbeat!’ ” She gave birth just days after the school year ended.

Atkins says other nurses around town would accuse MCC of giving nursing students the equivalent of a four-year education in two years “because we were pouring it on.”

This is what nursing students looked like back then (as seen in the 1967-68 MCC yearbook).
This is what nursing students looked like in 1967-68 (as seen in the MCC yearbook).

Cook, like Atkins, spent three years as a nursing instructor at here. She went on to work as an oncology nurse at St. Joseph Medical Center for 17 years.

The two former colleagues have kept in touch, though. At the luncheon, both marveled at the facilities at MCC’s Health Science Institute. “This building is beautiful,” Cook told her hosts.

“We wouldn’t even be here if it hadn’t been for you and the dream you created,” said Evelyn Claiborne, MCC’s director of professional nursing, as she, a handful of faculty members and their guests chatted about nursing then and now.

“I hope we are doing you proud,” MCC-Penn Valley President Dr. Joe Seabrooks added.

Atkins says she’s forever on the lookout for MCC nursing grads. “When I’m hospitalized … I always look to see if I can find graduates of here,” she says. “And I quiz ’em, because I want you all to be the best.”

MCC admits 64 students a semester into the associate degree in nursing program and graduates between 130 and 135 each year. There’s also an evening and weekend program, and an LPN to ADN bridge program. Click to learn more about MCC’s nursing programs.

(Our thanks to MCC archivist Janice Lee for photos and a history of the College’s nursing programs.)

Cook (far left) and Atkins talk about nursing then and now with MCC faculty including professional nursing director Evelyn Claiborne (far right).
Cook (far left) and Atkins talk about nursing then and now with MCC faculty including professional nursing director Evelyn Claiborne (far right).