The Joliet Junior College Nursing and Allied Health Department recently received a $268,000 endowment from late Joliet native Jeanette Wirt, who wanted to make the donation due to the excellent nursing care she experienced throughout her life. Wirt was treated for both epilepsy and breast cancer from the 1960s through 2000s. She passed away in 2008.
“My wife – she was a very benevolent person,” said her husband Leon Wirt. “When she told me she wanted to make this donation, I was as proud as punch. I’m just almost ready to burst with pride over this whole situation.”
Wirt’s donation comes from the inheritance of her parents, Henry and Leora Sing’s farmland, which stretched from Essington Road to Black Road in Joliet. The land, which originally belonged to Wirt’s grandparents in 1904, was sold in pieces, with the last portion sold only a few months ago.
The Wirts were married in November 1958, just months after meeting for the first time and falling in love. Leon said Jeanette loved to play the piano, but she also played the organ for her church. The family tragically lost their sons in a car accident in 1969, which also resulted in Jeanette’s epilepsy. Through their many struggles, the couple’s love for each other only grew throughout the years.
After Jeanette was diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time in the 2000s, she knew she wanted to do something that would help future nurses.
“She was all heart. She came home one day and she knew she was due to inherit a third of the farm. And she said, ‘You know what, I want my third to go toward the nursing program.’ I thought it was a noble thing to do,” Leon said.
JJC will use this donation as a scholarship in Jeanette’s name, beginning in 2015. Nursing students who have a GPA of 3.0 or higher, and show that they have financial need will be eligible. JJC will grant a total of $11,000 for this scholarship to as many as 11 recipients per year.
In addition to the scholarship, a room in the Health Professions Center will be named in Jeanette’s honor. The JJC Board of Trustees approved this measure on Tuesday, Sept. 30, officially identifying U-3004 as The Jeanette Wirt Nursing Skills Practice Room.
Nursing is one of the country’s fastest growing occupations, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, from 2012 to 2020, positions are expected to grow by 19 percent. Students can obtain an associate degree in nursing at JJC, and begin careers as licensed practical nurses or registered nurses. JJC has the biggest community college based nursing program in Illinois, and one of only a few that offers an evening program.
“We are so thrilled to have this available for our students,” said Nursing Department Chair and professor Mary Magruder. “Many of our students who are enrolled in the nursing program are here for nursing as a second career, and are not eligible for financial aid because they may have a previous degree. They often resort to taking out student loans. Our dedicated students strive to improve their lives for themselves and their families by coming to the JJC nursing program. The Nursing Department and the students are extremely grateful and we feel very fortunate to have been named as a recipient of this endowment.”
According to Magruder, JJC’s student pass rate for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) in 2013 was 93 percent – 10 percent higher than the national average, and 8 percent higher than the state average. JJC has 20 full-time nursing faculty, with 318 students enrolled in the program.
After the Health Professions Center was built in 2013, JJC student nurses have had more space for learning simulations, and they work with high-end nursing equipment. The Health Professions Center, which is 124,000 square feet, was the last major project in JJC’s master plan.
Kristi Mulvey, JJC’s executive director of Resource Development, said while the college has been granted donations of this size before, Wirt’s endowment is the biggest one the Nursing Department has ever received.
“Donors are a very important part of JJC,” Mulvey said. “They not only provide funds for scholarships, but some donors fund educational programs and equipment, which enhance the learning experience our students receive.”
For more information about JJC’s Nursing and Allied Health program, visit http://www.jjc.edu/academics/divisions/nursing-allied-health/nursing/Pages/default.aspx or call Magruder at 815-280-2438.
To learn about the donation process at JJC, visit http://www.jjc.edu/about/foundation/pages/default.aspx or call 815-280-2353.