Betty Sweeney, a registered nurse who devoted her career to training caregivers, died of cancer Friday in Hospice of Northwest Ohio, South Detroit Avenue. She was 83.
A 1955 graduate of the St. Vincent School of Nursing, she received an award from the Grey Nuns -- who then ran St. Vincent -- named for St. Marguerite d'Youville, founder of their Roman Catholic community.
Mrs. Sweeney helped with patient care when needed at what is now Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center. She was in the classroom, first and foremost, until she retired in the early 1990s.
"She was a teacher first," her son Joe said.
She taught to ensure proper patient care. That's what she demanded of students.
"It was the patient first at all costs," he said.
Pat Fittante, a student in the early '60s who later became a friend, said, "She was very tough -- also the best instructor I ever had.
"When you're young and in school, you complain about the tough ones, but as you mature, you realize what they did for you," said Mrs. Fittante, who retired as the nurse at St. Francis de Sales High School. "She demanded the best of us. You did it right the first time. You did what was necessary for the patient to further their care."
Mrs. Sweeney of Sylvania Township was a former president of the nursing school's alumni association. "She was very familiar face at St. V's long after her retirement," her son said.
She survived breast cancer in the mid-1970s and early 1990s, and afterward, through the American Cancer Society's Reach to Recovery program, helped other women deal with the physical -- and emotional -- aftermath. She also helped with a program to provide service dogs for people with disabilities.
"She had an incredible zest for life and compassion for everybody," her son said. The expression, "she didn't know a stranger," applied and had a practical result.
"It would take her a couple hours to go through a Kroger. She was friends to all," he said.
Born June 14, 1928, the ravages of the Great Depression caused her parents to place their three youngest children in the care of the county at the Children's Home in Maumee.
Residents helped care for their surroundings. Scrubbing floors was one duty. Nonetheless, she looked on her experience favorably.
"The work ethic she learned at the Children's Home carried throughout the rest of her life," her son said. She got along well with the couple who ran the home, Charles and Mata Kleinhans. Their daughter, Dolly, married William B. Saxbe of Mechanicsburg, Ohio -- who would become a U.S. senator and U.S. attorney general decades later -- and the couple took Betty in. She helped with the care of the Saxbe children, whom she thought of her siblings.
She was a graduate of Mechanicsburg High School. She returned several months ago to visit Mrs. Saxbe.
She and her husband, Joseph, married Nov. 25, 1961. He died July 25, 1996.
Surviving are her sons, Doug and Joe; daughter, Sheila Sweeney Lopez; brother, Donald Toland; sister, Margaret Leupp, and five grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 2 to 8 p.m. today at Ansberg-West Funeral Home. Services will be at 10 a.m. tomorrow in Corpus Christi University Parish, where she was a member.
The family suggests tributes to the St. Vincent School of Nursing Alumni Association scholarship fund.
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