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Nursing Pioneer Juanita Millsap Dies at 91

July 19, 2006

Juanita Granger Millsap, who helped launch the first nursing baccalaureate degree program in Oklahoma, died Tuesday, July 18, in Oklahoma City. She was 91.

A memorial service will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 23, at Lakeside United Methodist Church, 2925 N.W. 66th Street in Oklahoma City.

Millsap was an instrumental pioneer in the creation of Oklahoma Baptist University's School of Nursing. She worked with academic officials at the university, as well as state medical leaders to start OBU's nursing program in 1952. An original member of OBU's nursing faculty, she became chair of the program in 1975. She was named professor emerita of nursing in 1985. Millsap was inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame in 2000, and received an honorary doctor of science degree from OBU in September 2002.

Millsap was born Aug. 18, 1914, in Gracemont, Okla. She graduated from high school in Gracemont, then traveled to Michigan in 1931 to study at Battle Creek College. After two years there, she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, to complete a diploma in nursing from the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University. She then returned to Battle Creek College to gain a bachelor of science degree in nursing. She later earned a master of arts degree in sociology from the University of Oklahoma.

She worked as a staff nurse at hospitals in Detroit and Cleveland before returning to Oklahoma City in 1939 as an instructor in nursing at Wesley Hospital School of Nursing. While at Wesley, she was appointed to a committee to explore creating a nursing program which would lead to a bachelor of science degree. That committee worked with OBU academic leaders, leading to creation of the state's first baccalaureate program in nursing.

"Juanita Millsap was been more than a mother to the OBU School of Nursing. She not only instilled a caring perspective in the lives of nurses, but she also was an outstanding Christian example," said Dr. Lana Bolhouse, dean of OBU's School of Nursing. "When I was a student in the early '70s, she gave me copies of articles to read at home, since I was a single parent with toddlers to care for in the evenings. Later, as a faculty colleague, she would give me a big bowl of stew for our supper. Even in her 90s, she still read the nursing literature and was excited to engage in conversations about current nursing issues. She truly was a great lady of nursing."

Millsap often attended reunion events for OBU nursing graduates. During the university's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the program's founding, she described the process which led to creation of OBU's nursing program.

"The government became involved in recruiting nurses for World War II, and that changed the scope of nursing," said Millsap. You get the government in on something and they'll set up standards. As a result, the hospital school was ending."

The hospital school taught nursing through more of an apprentice type model, with the students largely responsible for the nursing service. Wanted to develop a baccalaureate program, directors of the Wesley Hospital School of Nursing worked to form a committee to lead the effort. That group including Ben Nickelson, representing the hospital board; Dr. James Ralph Scales, OBU; Katherine Fleming, director of nursing service at Wesley Hospital; and Millsap, the instructor at the School of Nursing at Wesley. As part of the committee, Millsap began to write the plans for the OBU School of Nursing, which were submitted to the State Board of Nursing Registration.

She had two years to write the requirements and recruit a clinical faculty for the only program of its type in the state. When classes opened in 1952, there were 10 students and three faculty members.

Today, the program has more than 150 students and eight faculty members.

Millsap was preceded in death by her husband, Sharon. She is survived by three children, Dr. Burr Millsap, Melinda Howard, and Katie Livingston, all of Oklahoma City.

Millsap was a longtime member of Lakeview United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. She was an avid collector of Florence Nightingale memorabilia and books.

In addition to her career with OBU, in the 1960s she was an instructor in maternal and child nursing with the Oklahoma City Board of Education's division of adult education, and an extension specialist with the University of Oklahoma's extension division of health and welfare services. Throughout her career she served in various leadership roles with the Oklahoma Nurses' Association. Her writings appeared in numerous nursing publications. She was named the Oklahoma State Nurses' Association Nurse of the Year in 1973.