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Three Decades Later, VNA Scholarship Recipient Still Grateful For Award



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A longtime Newtown resident remains very grateful to the local Visiting Nurse Association for a scholarship they awarded to her two decades ago.

Jane Sturgis sat down with The Newtown Bee on February 6, following the latest monthly meeting of the association. She has been a member of VNA Newtown for “about five years,” she said.

Sturgis changed her career path twice. The second time was in 1993, when she went to school for nursing.

“I’d lost both of my parents, and their death brought on an interest in the healthcare field I didn’t have before then,” Sturgis shared February 6.

Sturgis originally went to school for elementary education. She did substitution work in Newtown and Southbury before teaching at the former Newtown Congregational Co-Op Nursery School for 13 years. She then opened a yarn shop near the Main Street flagpole in late 1988.

When the shop closed in late 1993, Sturgis decided it was time for another career change. She went back to school, this time for nursing.

The closure of her business led to very tight financial times for Sturgis and her husband Richard. They couldn’t get out of the lease on the yarn shop, but Sturgis was determined to re-enter the work force. At the age of 39, she began nursing school. She also began working in the Danbury Hospital psychiatric ward, covering midnight-8 am shifts.

“I did that for two years, to pay off our debt,” she said.

She then began attending the nursing program at Western CT State University full-time.

At the suggestion of friend and neighbor Eleanor Zolof, Sturgis had applied to The Visiting Nurse Association of Newtown for a scholarship. At the time, the local VNA was offering two scholarships annually. One was $500 for a graduating high school student and the other was $1,000, for an adult returning to school in the nursing field.

In autumn 1993, when the VNA did not receive any applications from high school students, Sturgis was awarded both scholarships.

“Had I not received that scholarship,” she said matter-of-factly, “I would not have been able to continue. That scholarship really changed my life.”

Sturgis admitted she was terrified before the scholarship announcement.

“I remember crying on my way to exams,” she said. “I kept thinking ‘How am I going to do this?’ But you do. You persevere.

“The VNA gave me an opportunity to continue when I was really desperate in my life,” she said. “I’d like to think economic barriers won’t hold anyone back if you want to be a nurse.”

“I’m in my 29th year as a nurse, my 33rd at Danbury Hospital,” Sturgis, who celebrated her 72nd birthday on February 7.

Versatility, she said, is one of the biggest benefits of being a nurse.

“The schedule can be very flexible; you can work in a hospital or healthcare facility or in a home for an agency,” she said, ticking points off on her fingers. “You can do private duty. The career is open for men and women, salaries can be good, there’s job security.”

Outside the career field, she said, organizations such as the VNA allow people to give back to others.

“The VNA is a wonderful organization,” she said. “We do a lot of community outreach.”

Readers of all ages are welcome to join VNA Newtown, Sturgis said. While many members do have a nursing degree, it is not necessary to have one to be a member.

“There’s always a need for volunteers,” Sturgis noted.

She also continues to work in the in-patient psych ward at the hospital.

“It’s my devotion,” she said. “There’s such a need for that care. People get such a bad rap.

“I still love doing this,” she added last week. “I’m not ready to retire.”

Sally Schwerdtle VNA Scholarship

According to information provided to The Newtown Bee by VNA Newtown, the local association donated over $16,800 to various local organizations and the school system during calendar year 2023. Those donations included $8,000 to Newtown High School graduates, $2,500 to Parks & Recreation toward Summer Camp scholarships, two defibrillators for Edmond Town Hall, donations to local fire companies, medical bags for school nurses, and $500 to The Newtown Fund.

The local VNA also continues to provide funds, as needed, in partnership with Newtown Lions Club, toward eye screenings for Newtown school students.

Funds for these donations and scholarships are raised through sales at The VNA Thrift Shop, a longtime offering housed at Edmond Town Hall.

Current VNA Newtown President Mary Tietjen said the organization raises “a lot of funds through that effort. It’s one of our biggest fundraising efforts.”

Tietjen said additional funds are raised through promised donations that are received regularly as well as from interest off the principal on an account the VNA maintains.

The VNA Newtown has established a new scholarship this year.

The Sally Schwerdtle VNA Scholarship will be awarded to individuals who are Newtown residents pursuing a degree in the nursing profession: RN, BSRN, MSN, APRN or NP.

The new award has been named to honor a longtime member of VNA Newtown. Schwerdtle served as the chapter’s Scholarship Chairman for about 40 years, according to Tietjen.

“Sally was the chair of that committee for decades, and before that she served as our president,” Tietjen said this week. “She was so dedicated to the VNA.”

Schwerdtle has moved out of the area. VNA member Margreta Kotch is among those still in touch with the honoree.

“She was so thrilled to have this honor,” Kotch said February 6.

The new award has been established by the VNA Newtown Board of Directors due to the great need for nurses in the community and across the country.

Tietjen said residents interested in learning more and receiving an application should contact current Scholarship Chair Cris Fadus at 203ninelives@gmail.com.

This scholarship is an ongoing award, according to Tietjen. There is no hard deadline for this scholarship.

2024 VNA Applications Also Open

Applications are available from the Newtown High School College & Career Center for the returning VNA Scholarship. This scholarship is presented to graduating high school seniors entering the nursing field.

Students should visit that department within the high school for applications and additional information, according to Fadus.

Deadline to apply for this year’s award is March 31.

The award levels will fluctuate for each scholarship, she added.


Managing Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at shannon@thebee.com.

Longtime Newtown Jane Sturgis is grateful to the local Visiting Nurse Association for a scholarship awarded to her two decades ago. —Bee Photo, Hicks
Jane Sturgis (front row, left) says she remains grateful to The Visiting Nurse Association of Newtown for scholarship funds the organization awarded her in 1993. Joining Sturgis following the VNA Newtown meeting on February 6 were, continuing clockwise, VNA members Maureen McLachlan, Betty Warner, Margreta Kotch, Mary Tietjen, Rebeka Dahlgard, Toni Catalina, and John Reynolds. —Bee Photo, Hicks
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