“I never missed a day in nursing.”
Wilma Rohweder, Dean Foundation BSP-Free Clinic Volunteer Nurse
Wilma Rohweder was just seventeen years old when polio struck. Her dream was to become a nurse, but when she fell ill, her mother began to worry.
“She tried to talk me out of it,” Rohweder recalls. “I wouldn’t listen to her.”
Two years later, she packed her bags and moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where she literally earned her stripes—one for each of her three years in nursing school. At graduation, each woman—no men in the field yet—received a beret with a wide black stripe to signify her status as a registered nurse. Today one of Rohweder’s caps is on display in the UW–Madison School of Nursing.
It was the beginning of World War II, and a shortage of wartime nurses led to the creation of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. For fifteen dollars a month, the eager and precocious Rohweder signed on as a cadet. Rightly so, she is extremely proud of her honorable service to the profession—sixty-four years and counting.
Rohweder has spent the majority of her career in ophthalmology. However, when her husband of sixty-two years, Dwayne, was starting out, his jobs with the county extension office took him all over the state of Iowa, so Rohweder accepted whatever nursing positions were available. The couple moved a dozen times in the first few years of their marriage, but wherever they landed, Rohweder always found work. The hospital urology department, a school nurse, an operating room supervisor—whatever it was, she loved every minute of it.
“I never missed a day in nursing,” she says. And that includes a two-and-a-half-year stint in Brazil in the late 1960s, where her husband, who had since earned a Ph.D. in agronomy and moved the family to Madison, was sent to develop a graduate program. There she worked as a consulate nurse, helping procure safe, sterilized needles and administering gamma globulin shots to boost immunity to diseases that today are prevented with vaccines.
Her specialized skills and training in diseases and disorders of the eye made her a perfect fit for her current work as a volunteer for Dean Foundation’s BSP Free Clinic for under- and uninsured patients seeking specialty health care. She assisted the clinic in the planning and launching of its ophthalmology services, and colleagues say her help is critical on days when volunteer doctors see patients with glaucoma, macular degeneration and other eye-related disorders.