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Retired nurse reflects on life as a caregiver

Tuesday - 1/17/2012, 11:28am  ET

Frances Wilkins (Frederick News Post)
Retired nurse Frances Wilkins, 83, continues to volunteer at Montevue Assisted Living. (Frederick News-Post/Sam Yu)

Frances Wilkins believes people today spend too much time with computers and not enough with other people.

Wilkins, 83, has spent much of her life as a nurse, providing hands-on care -- what she sees as the most important aspect of that profession.

Today, she said, medical professionals have to spend a lot of time on paperwork -- or, more aptly, electronic paperwork. That task takes time from the personal aspect of care, but she said it is all part of the job.

A native of Thurmont, Wilkins' father, Lester Hahn, had an auto repair garage. She was one of nine children.

She lived in Frederick with her grandparents Lewis and Della Putman, and graduated from Frederick High School in 1946.

"I worked that summer at the hospital in back of the Montevue (Home) to see if I wanted to go into nursing," Wilkins said. That building is in back of what is now the Frederick County Health Department on Montevue Lane.

Wilkins retired in November after working at several area nursing homes, but she still volunteers in the office at Montevue Assisted Living, helping with administrative work.

Wilkins spent three years training to be a nurse at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, where her aunt was a supervisor in the operating room.

She didn't take her nursing board examinations, but she returned to Frederick and worked for several years as an operator with C&P Telephone.

In 1953, she married Jack Reynolds, who worked at Schabel Foundation Co. in Bethesda. Reynolds died in 1979.

Wilkins said she had taken typing and bookkeeping classes in high school. At that time, courses in shorthand and other office skills were offered at the Frederick Academy of the Visitation. Wilkins spent a year in the course, completing it in 1956.

She worked as a secretary for Dan Wight of Monocacy Farms. Wight owned four or five farms, Wilkins said, and had an office at 104 N. Court St. She worked there for 15 years, but she knew that nursing was her real call in life.

She began studying part-time at Frederick Community College, and then quit her job with Wight in 1970 to attend FCC full time.

"I got a scholarship from the Frederick Business and Professional Women's Club for $250," Wilkins said. She joined the club in 1968 and served as vice president and membership chairwoman while attending FCC.

Wilkins got a job as a part-time nursing assistant at Vindobona Nursing Home in Braddock Heights while finishing up at FCC, and passed the state board examination when she graduated in 1972.

She stayed on at Vindobona as a registered nurse, and then went to Citizens Nursing Home in 1981. She retired from Citizens in 1996.

Her second husband, Lyle Wilkins, captured her heart, and she said she found excitement riding motorcycles with him.

"We were married in 1997," Wilkins said. "We went on many trips on the motorcycle. He made a trailer to haul behind the motorcycle so we had some place to put our clothes when we traveled across the country several times.

Lyle Wilkins died in April 2007.

"I went back to work in August (2007) at the Montevue," Wilkins said, retiring in November 2011.

"I've really enjoyed taking care of the elderly all those years," Wilkins said. "I've met many nice people and patients."

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