Lisa Lapan’s Speech

My grandmother Patricia Wahl Lapan, was born in 1927 in the Bronx, New York. As she grew up, like many young women, she wanted to escape her home, but she also wanted to further her education. From a very early age, she valued education. 

In 1945, her family did not have the money to support her further schooling, and most financial assistance was going to returning veterans of the war. She felt as a woman her options were limited to nursing and teaching, and inspired by a family friend and cousin, she decided she wanted to become a nurse. 

The US Department of Health had created a program called the Cadet Nursing Corps to address a shortage of nurses. Entrants to the program would receive free tutition, books and uniforms, and would receive $15/month in their first year. She applied to her top choice school, the Waterbury Hostpital School of Nursing at Yale University in New Haven CT.

At her interview, the interviewer told her: You meet all of the school’s requirements and I can’t turn you down but I must tell you that we have never had a Jewish student nurse. I expect you will flunk out because Jewish girls don’t make good nurses. If you come to our school, we have required chapel and prayers every morning. If that is against your religion, say so now because we do not make any exceptions.

Despite the anti-semitism and the required chapel, she still wanted to go to nursing school at Waterbury.

At 16 years old, she finished high school and moved to Connecticut. She lived in the dormitory and donned her required clothes – a pair of white laced shoes with a one-inch heel, polished with white shoe polish, a nurse’s uniform and watch (a small white round watch on a pull chain and pin), white stockings and a heavy hair net. 

She loved the education she received, as she quickly rose to the top of her class and began rotations. It was in nursing school she met my grandfather, and soon after married and had my father and my two uncles.

She went on to do many other incredible things in her life; she became a business woman, lawyer, pilot, real estate investor and stock market maven. But she never lost her connection to nursing. As she spent time in hospitals throughout her life, when two of her sons became sick and passed, for her own health issues, she came to value nurses and her own education even more. Although she was always disappointed that the nurses no longer wore hairnets.

She also retained a strong Jewish identity throughout her life, so it is no surprise that she grew to love Hadassah hospital. In her later years, she read the magazine every month, and appreciated from afar all that Hadassah was doing. 

It is easy to understand why she chose Hadassah to be a beneficiary of her estate. Hadassah is a true blend of many of her most prized values – her love of nursing, her Jewish identity, the state of Israel and above all, education. 

I do not know whether she knew before she passed of the nursing shortage that existed today, or whether it was a stroke of luck. But we have come to understand how needed her gift was and is, and what a difference it is making and will make in the lives of the nurses here, the patients and all individuals who Hadassah touches in Israel and beyond.

I am so honored to be our family’s liaison, to help the Hadassah carry out my grandmother’s vision. I know she is proud of what the hospital and scholarship programs are doing with her bequest, as are all of us in her family. We are so honored to be here with you today, and to see the impact she continues to make first hand.