Wednesday, March 2, 2011


This photo was taken one of the last times that all three Germanna deans of nursing had lunch together. Left to right, Jane Ingalls, Dale Featherston and Mary Gilkey. “That meal was most enjoyable as it was peppered with her very wry sense of humor-- she had a contagious giggle,” current GCC Dean of Nursing & Health Technologies Mary Gilkey said.

Dale Featherston was a nurse in a M.A.S.H. unit in Korea. She once snuck an injured dog into the Mary Washington Hospital emergency room for treatment. And her revolutionarily proactive, intelligent and caring approach to teaching nursing made Germanna Community College’s program something special from the beginning.

Featherston, who was director of nursing when Germanna opened its doors at Locust Grove in 1970, passed away on Feb. 28, 2011. She was far ahead of her time, teaching nursing 30 years ago the way it's being taught today, with an emphasis on preventing illness rather than waiting to treat it after it develops, and working to create a healthy community as a whole to prevent the spread of disease and reduce health care costs.

“She called waiting for people to become ill ‘sick care,’ not ‘health care,’ said Dr. Jane Ingalls, R.N., who succeeded Featherston as dean of nursing at Germanna Commmunity College in 1992. Dr. Ingalls said it required courage for Featherston to take what was then considered a radical approach.

"She would present ideas to the Board of Nursing that they did not particularly approve of - but within a few years, those ideas became models for other nursing programs and the Board wanted her to share them all the time," said Sandy Demotses, who worked with Featherstone.

“Dale Featherston pioneered Germanna Community College's nursing program,” said GCC President David A. Sam. “She was a force of nature and a loved presence. We at Germanna will miss her deeply and extend our deepest condolences to her family.

“She provided visionary and entrepreneurial leadership---without her, Germanna's nursing program would not be the world-class program that it has become," Dr. Sam said. "Through her leadership, her sense of humor, her ethic of compassionate care, and her spirit of challenge, Dale Featherstone served not only as a great teacher and a powerful leader, but lived a life of service that is the model of the nurse who ministers to the body, the mind and the spirit.”

“Dale was the conscience of the college, always loving, always caring, and always giving. Mother Teresa now has company,” said Dr. Rich Gossweiler, a professor of history at GCC who was Dean of Instruction and Student Services during Featherstone's time at at Germanna.

Alice Doeppe MSN, RN, an assistant professor of nursing at GCC, was one of Featherston’s students during the 1980s.

Doeppe said that after retirement from Germanna, Featherston helped organize nursing programs in Alaska and Russia and worked with Indian reservations to improve nursing there. She also developed the nursing program at Blue Ridge Community College.

“Dale was a M.A.S.H. Army nurse during the Korean War and loved to tell her students stories about her adventures,” Doeppe said. “She loved animals as much as people, and I think my favorite story was the one she told about when she was a nurse at Mary Washington Hospital. Apparently she or a friend had an ailing dog that they smuggled into the E.R. in the middle of the night for treatment.

“Dale influenced me in so many ways, but perhaps the biggest impact on me was the example she set, Doeppe said. “Her honesty, fairness, love of mankind, and passion for teaching ignited the spark in me that has led me to where I am today. Just to have known Dale Featherston was a privilege and an honor.”

Featherston, who lived in Fredericksburg, was devoted to her family and cared for her parents, a sister with disabilities, and her ailing brother.

“She had a gruff voice and a most contagious laugh that made you feel happy just to be around her,” Doeppe said.

“Dale Featherston was a nurse’s nurse,” said Mary Gilkey, who is now GCC’s Dean of Nursing & Health Technologies. “She was known for her advanced vision for the role of nursing. She was committed to making sure students were prepared to serve and provide the best health care for their patients. Even in her final days she was urging us at Germanna to petition a way to bring baccalaureate education to Germanna so all ‘her’ graduates would return to school and get that degree. In the short time I interacted with her she clearly shared with me the importance of believing that ‘each one of us can make a difference.’”

“I urge all those who were impacted by her to continue her mission,” Dean Gilkey said. “Provide the best patient care you can.”

“She walked in the room and took over --- in an exciting and positive way,” said GCC’s Locust Grove Campus Coordinator of Counseling Sarah Somerville. “She very frequently wore black leather pants and and a jacket and she was so striking.  Her hoarse- toned voice was mesmerizing....she had been a heavy smoker and in those days you could smoke anywhere in the building.  She cared so much for the students -- I can genuinely say I learned some of my passion and compassion for students from her.  She would come into Counseling and tell you the entire life story of a student and what they needed in way of help.  She many times confided that she had ‘taken them under her wing’ and if I am not mistaken, even probably put some of the most desperate in her basement when the need was at that level.  She would do absolutely anything for a student.  She wanted them to succeed and she knew them all--each and every one...  She was aggressive in making sure they got all the support and resources they needed to have a chance at success.
'There is no exaggeration in what you hear about the extent of Dale Featherston's graciousness and charity towards all she came in contact with -- but especially and particularly Germanna nursing students," Somerville said. "She was tough, though....She didn't put up with nonsense. She expected the students to step up and meet the bar she set for them.  She knew what they had to face as nurses and she did not sugar coat anything.”

Survivors include her daughter, Susie Kilian and husband, Jim; three granddaughters, Rachel, Rebecca and Olivia; and her sister, Mary F. Ball.

A rosary service will be held at 6 p.m. on Thursday, March 3, 2011, with visitation following until 8 p.m. at Covenant Funeral Service, Fredericksburg.

A funeral Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, March 4, 2011 at St. Mary Catholic Church in Fredericksburg with Rev. Donald Rooney officiating. Interment will follow in Sunset Memorial Gardens.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Germanna Community College Educational Foundation, Dale Featherston Endowment for Nursing Scholarships, 2130 Germanna Highway, Locust Grove, VA 22508.

Dean Gilkey added: “We can all honor her when we recommitment ourselves to our roles as nurses and as a further tribute please consider sending a small donation in her memory to the school she loved, Germanna Community College Nursing Program. She believed that nursing gave people the means to feed, clothe and take care of their family as they care for others. We need to continue this legacy. RIP Dale, you will be missed.”

Michael Zitz
Director of Media & Community Relations
Germanna Community College


Cindy said...

Very sad to hear this news, I have not seen her in many years but I will never forget her. She encouraged us as students to be the best we could be, she was tough on us at times, but she knew that was what we needed, she was also caring when we needed that. I am thankful that she started the program at Germanna so many years ago, it is still the best around. I have the pleasure of working with some of the GCC students now in the hospital when they do clinicals. I feel fortunate to help them learn what I have learned over the years.
Cindy Curtis RN - Class of 1986

Anonymous said...

I will never forget her caring and progressive attitude. On my entrance interview she told a young, nervous single mom that she believed in me. She also had a wonderfully humorous spirit. Germanna has lost a true nursing legend.

Laura Olsen-Kennah
Class of 1986