Retiree leaves legacy of successful nurses

by Chris Quirk

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Karen Bess

In a venerable nursing and teaching career spanning 48 years, there’s little that Karen Bess hasn’t seen, sometimes more than once. 

“It’s interesting when something from the past — like the concept of group testing that we did in the 70s, for instance — comes back into the curriculum as it has recently, although in a different way,” Bess says. 

Bess will retire from Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College April 30. 

After receiving her diploma from the former Jewish Hospital School of Nursing in 1967 and taking the two-day paper-and-pencil Missouri State Board of Nursing exam for her registered nurse license, she began her career at the former Jewish Hospital as a staff nurse on the obstetrical unit. Over the next eight years, Bess worked there as nurse, head nurse and administrator, earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Saint Louis University on a full scholarship. She began her teaching career in 1974 at Jewish Hospital School of Nursing. 

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Karen Millican (Bess) in 1967

Though apprehensive at first, Bess warmed to teaching almost immediately. “My parents were both teachers, but I didn’t think I wanted to do it,” she says. “It was that era where lots of people didn’t like teachers as it wasn’t very cool, but once I started, I loved it. It was exciting.” 

As an instructor, and later assistant professor, Bess taught obstetrical and women’s health courses for 40 years. 

Throughout Bess’ teaching career, she often held concurrent clinical appointments and continued her education with a master’s degree in education and later, a master’s degree in nursing. Bess credits the education degree with helping her to expand the breadth of her work in the classroom. “We learned a great deal about the theories of education,” she says. “The instruction in curriculum development was also useful in terms of putting together courses and syllabi, preparing exams and clarifying objectives.” 

Bess’ students took advantage of her vast knowledge of nursing and teaching skills over the years. Mary Kay Michael, a former student who now works as a nurse in the special care nursery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, recalls the supportive aspects of Bess’ teaching style. “She was always very kind and caring, willing to help you when you needed it, and ready to listen at any time,” Michael says. 

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Karen Millican (Bess) talks with fellow nursing students at the former Jewish Hospital School of Nursing in 1967. | Courtesy photo

Bess says she worked to make students feel comfortable. “Many of them don’t have a lot of experience with infants,” she says. “It’s important for them to see what it’s like doing family-centered care.” 

The school will miss the way Bess taught and treated her students, her colleagues say. “I’ve had the privilege of knowing Karen for the past nine years,” says Gail Rea, Goldfarb associate dean of undergraduate programs. “Karen’s desire is that every student be successful. She takes interest in the students’ lives and personal accomplishments. Karen has freely shared her expertise and love for nursing with me, for which I will forever be grateful. She is one of the kindest people I know.” 

It’s not just colleagues and students who’ve been influenced by Bess’ expertise and love for nursing. Her daughter, Robin Welch, is a registered nurse in the OR at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. 

Bess is nostalgic about her lasting career at BJH and Goldfarb. “This is the only job that I ever really had, working and teaching at this hospital,” Bess says. “The people I know here have been like a family. I met my husband here; both of us worked here together for many years. I feel like I belong in that hospital, I’ve spent so much time there. That’s what I’m going to miss when I retire.” 

Vice dean of finance and administration also retiring

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Tom Edler

Tom Edler, vice dean of finance and administration at Goldfarb School of Nursing at Barnes-Jewish College, is set to retire in May after 34 years of service on the Barnes-Jewish Hospital campus. 

Starting his career in the accounting department as the director of budgets and Medicare cost reporting at BJH, Edler has seen a lot of change throughout the hospital and the college. “One of my first tasks was to convert the budget process from a paper-and-pencil process to a computerized process,” Edler recalls. He spent 18 years working in various clinical departments throughout the hospital until joining the college in 1998. “The college has been constantly changing while I’ve been here. It has grown in student enrollment, as well as new programs and also a new building. It’s been fast-paced and exciting.” 

His colleagues say Edler has been a major contributor to the growth and success of the college. “I’ve worked with Tom for more than 14 years,” says Wade Lehde, Goldfarb information systems director. “His dedication to students, faculty and staff provided significant contributions to the college through times of transition and growth. Tom has been a true leader, doing his part to make the college what it is today, and his presence will be sorely missed. His sense of humor always provided release — seemingly at just the right time — and his knowledge of how to masterfully navigate through the BJH/BJC systems to acquire the resources the college needed has been extremely important to the college’s success.” 

“During my years with the hospital and college, I have been fortunate to work with a number of highly talented and committed individuals,” Edler says. “These are the people who make this hospital and this college great. They go above and beyond for the patients, for the students or for their colleagues. They are what I will miss most, but I know they will continue to take good care of my hospital and my college.” 

Join in celebrating Karen Bess’ and Tom Edler’s careers, 3:30-5:30 p.m. April 22, with a presentation at 3:45 p.m., in the lobby of Goldfarb Hall at Goldfarb School of Nursing. RSVP for the celebration by emailing GSON-RSVP@bjc.org.

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