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Taking Charge and Making a Difference

June 19, 2008

As one of the founding faculty members for OBU's nursing program, she served on the University's faculty for 34 years. In 1952, she helped launch Oklahoma's first baccalaureate degree program in nursing. But her unique story began before that academic milestone.

At the age of 15, living in Atoka, Okla., Proctor took on the responsibility of supporting her family after her father died. In 1941, following high school graduation, she attended Wesley Hospital's nursing program in Oklahoma City.

During World War II, the Red Cross requested that one third of seniors in nursing schools be sent to military hospitals. Jaunita was sent to Balboa Park Hospital in San Diego, Calif.

"They were really getting short of nurses in military hospitals in the states. A lot of injured people were coming back," she said.

Learning to be responsible for her family at a young age helped Jaunita develop a "take charge" approach which became visible early in her military career.

"I was just a cadet nurse, but I was told to not let soldiers believe you're not a cadet nurse," she said. "I always had a commanding voice and told a marine squad leader it was important that his men received penicillin shots every three hours the first day."

Jaunita had such an affect on the squad leader that he made certain shots were administered promptly.

That level of respect prompted a visit from the top officer at the base.

"About mid-afternoon the base commander came to me and said, 'I hear we have a new commander,'" said Jaunita. "It turned out after meeting with him that he was impressed with the care we were giving his men and he understood we needed to take charge when their health was at stake."

"We became really good friends and my commanding officer was amazed," she continued. "She heard about the meeting and called me in when I was off duty. She said, 'Ms. Proctor, usually you're in trouble if you see the base commander, and he knows your name already.'"

Upon her completion of duty in 1946, Jaunita was able to make a down payment on a house in Atoka where her mother lived until her death.

Having completed the registered nurse program at Wesley Hospital, she earned a bachelor's degree in nursing at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and later earned a master's degree at the University of Chicago.

After she started teaching at OBU, Jaunita got a call from a general at Tinker Air Force Base.

"You don't know me," he said. "But we need a nurse if we're going to keep the medical unit of Tinker, and everybody on staff said 'Talk to Jaunita Proctor.'"

Juanita trained corpsmen at TAFB for the next 11 years. At the time, she was the only female serving in the Air Force Reserve.

"Working at OBU I could also work at Tinker because I had a flexible schedule," she said. "I decided to recruit other nurses, and in two weeks I was a first lieutenant. I went on leave to go to the University of Chicago to get my master's degree. When I came back, I was a major."

Juanita recalls the start of OBU's baccalaureate program in nursing. The first class would include 10 nursing students.

"Many were already enrolled at OBU because of the possibility that the nursing program was going to be added," she said. "We also had one transfer in from Tennessee, so that first graduating class had 11."

Many of her memories of serving at OBU involve people confusing her with another OBU nursing pioneer, Juanita Millsap. Proctor is quick to point out that they spell their names differently.

"I was named Alumni Association Hall of Fame by former OBU nursing student Rosemary Blankenship Atkins, a 1954 Atoka after the Choctaw princess," said Jaunita.

Juanita Millsap also taught Jaunita at the Wesley Hospital program, so their relationship in the nursing business preceded OBU.

"If there wasn't anything wrong with my tests or papers that I turned in, she would correct my name, just to find something to correct," Proctor said jokingly.

OBU still holds a place in her heart. Jaunita continues to be in contact with many of her former students. The first graduating class had their 50th reunion in 2006 and honored Juanita with a plaque featuring the names of the initial class members.

Recently she was inducted in the Atoka graduate. Atkins graduated from OBU in 1958, in the third class of graduates from the University's nursing program.

Jaunita remains in touch with her OBU friends, and she said she is excited about the new master's degree program in nursing which OBU will launch in the fall of 2008.

"OBU is a special place," she said. "I wouldn't take away my memories and the friendships I developed there. It was more than a teaching and training experience for me. I made friends for life."

Her commitment to OBU and her ability to take charge have combined in a unique way, as Jaunita has provided ongoing support for the University's nursing program through gifts for the School of Nursing skills lab. For one who learned leadership by leading, it is a natural way to help bolster the skills of a new generation of nurses.