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Nursing professor remembered as caring teacher and friend

Faculty Dec 16, 2020
Two women participate in a discussion
Two women participate in a discussion

KOKOMO, Ind. — Nurse. Teacher. Leader. Role model. Friend.

Those are just a few of the words used to describe Sue Ann Shafer Symonds, one of the early leaders of the Indiana University Kokomo School of Nursing, who passed away Saturday, December 12 in Kokomo, after a lengthy illness.

“She was part of the School of Nursing from the very earliest days, and had a really important part in building our reputation to what it is today,” said Dean Susan Hendricks. “The folks who were part of those early days, like Sue, really set a high standard for those of us who followed. The reputation of a nursing school has so much to do with the quality of education provided, how they treat their students, and also the standards for care that were to be provided. She had high standards, but she was so calm and warm, she made it look effortless. There was so much behind-the-scenes work she did to make it seem that way.”

Symonds graduated from Logansport High School, and earned both her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing from Indiana University, and later an Ed.D. from Ball State University.

She was a nurse at St. Joseph Hospital in Kokomo, and was a member of the IU Kokomo School of Nursing faculty from 1968 until her retirement in May 2002. Symonds began her teaching career as a lecturer, and later became an associate professor of nursing and coordinator of the Associate of Science in Nursing program.

Symonds played a crucial role in career choice for Lesley Connolly, now a lecturer and clinical liaison the School of Nursing.

“She’s the reason I’m a pediatric nurse,” Connolly said. “She was encouraging, and I have vivid memories of her being on the unit with me when I gave my first injection to a pediatric patient. She was a gentle soul, and kept encouraging me, ‘You can do this, I have confidence in you, and we’re going to get this done because it’s for the best for this patient.’ It was almost 40 years ago, and I can still remember it.

“She was the faculty member you want to be like,” Connolly continued. “She’s the reason I do what I do now. My best memories from nursing school were of her.”

Bridget Whitmore, clinical associate professor of nursing, benefited from Symonds’s mentoring when she joined the faculty in 1986 as a seasoned OB nurse, with no teaching experience.

“She was a role model and a kind and caring supervisor who helped me along in my first years as a teacher,” said Whitmore, adding that Symonds paired her up with veteran faculty member Dorothy Walker.

“They both provided a solid foundation for me to springboard into nursing education. I so appreciated that,” she said. “They really helped build my self-confidence. Sue had such good people skills. She knew when she needed to be firm, but she did it with such kindness, it didn’t hurt too much when she gave you some constructive feedback. I learned how to use her techniques when I was interacting with students.

“They were the bedrock of my teaching abilities,” Whitmore continued. “Sue gave me a lot of constructive comments. It always came across in such a kind manner. I learned a lot about how to be with people and interact with them in a positive way, so I could get my point across, and they would listen to me.” 

The faculty members also recalled Symonds’s fun side, especially with her sister, Kathy Shafer Morrical, who also was a nursing faculty member — and remembered that she included everyone in their fun.

“She and Kathy were a dynamic duo,” Hendricks said. “They were hilarious, and I loved to hear them. They thoroughly loved what they were doing. They were all about the students, and the student experience, and the student learning, and the impact those students were going to have as they gave care to patients.”

Survivors include her husband, Robin Symonds, associate professor emeritus of mathematics. She will be buried in a private ceremony in the Camden Cemetery. A celebration of Symonds’s life will be held at a later date, when COVID-19 restrictions permit.

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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