From cosmetologist to Glen Oaks professor

Award winner Susan Louis.

By Valorie Juergen

Working as a professor at Glen Oaks Community College was happenstance, the result of a series of doors that opened for this year’s recipient of the college’s E. J. Shaheen Award for Teaching Excellence, nursing professor Susan Louis.

Louis was honored at the college’s May 6 commencement ceremony.

A Vicksburg native and fourth-generation graduate of Vicksburg High School, she began her working career as a cosmetologist.

“My older sister asked if I wanted to take LPN classes with her at a local community college,” said Louis. “It all started with our first class – Medical Terminology. “My sister didn’t like it, but I kept on taking classes, soon stopped working as a hairdresser and took a position as a unit clerk at Borgess Hospital.”

Louis enjoyed the hospital environment and was sure she wanted to learn all the things that nurses need to know – well, except for anything that had to do with “bodily fluids.”

Becoming an LPN was the next step – and why not? She would earn more money, and working at a hospital opened the door for tuition reimbursement.

She finished her Associate of Nursing degree at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and took a position in the Neuro Department at Borgess where she delt with patients who had experienced strokes and brain injuries.

“I worked with a great preceptor in the critical care part of the department and quickly got over the whole bodily fluid paranoia,” said Louis. “I actually ended up finishing my bachelor’s in nursing from Western Michigan University and also became certified as a neuroscience registered nurse and worked in this area for 25 years.”

During those years, she helped open the first Neuro Interventional Surgery Unit in Kalamazoo with Borgess Hospital. “This state-of-the-art technology was life-changing and provided so much hope – we were able to rescue people from strokes, very similar to work that was being done for heart attack patients,” said Louis. “We took in patients from all over.”

“I’ll never forget the time a friend and co-worker of mine suffered a disabling stroke on my birthday,” said Louis. “He didn’t get to the hospital in time; however, by working through the brain arteries we were able to reverse the damage and he fully recovered and worked an additional 15 years at the hospital.”

That wasn’t enough for Louis – as she was ready for something else. She went back to Western and received her master’s in nursing at age 53. She learned that she had a passion for teaching in the medical settings, retired from Borgess, and taught a class that prepares nursing students for the NCLEX ((National Council Licensure Examination).

“The job at Glen Oaks just came to me,” said Louis. “I was teaching the NCLEX class to graduating nursing students when Bill Lederman approached me about teaching for the college.”

Louis began teaching Medical Surgical Nursing, and it wasn’t long before she was teaching three courses.

“I really enjoy watching the students grow as they learn,” said Louis. “The difference in the students is profound between the first and last semesters of the program. There was a time when I had the opportunity to teach the same students in both the first and second years of their program, and then pin them during the Nursing Pinning Ceremony. It was quite a joyous and emotional time all in one to see them through this accomplishment.”

So, what’s ahead for Louis? “My husband and I collect antique medicine bottles that claim to cure diseases.” With a recent addition to the collection from a friend, they now have the largest known collection.

The Louis’ travel to bottle shows many a weekend to purchase these rare bottles, generally found in old drug store basements and in warehouses of the past. The focus is on medicine bottles from America; however, the collection includes bottles from England, Canada, and New Zealand. One example is “Alexander’s Cure for Liver and Kidney Disorders.” An additional label on the reverse side of the bottle states it will also cure malaria. And some bottles are valuable, such as the “Best Bitters in America” from Kalamazoo.

Louis and her husband are writing a reference book to correspond with the bottles. “Right now, my goal is to log in 100 a day – this will be a comprehensive listing of known extracts.”

Louis and her husband, Dann, have been married for 47 years. They reside in Three Rivers and have two adult children, three grandchildren, three step-grandchildren, two dachshunds and a cat.

Established in 1982, the E.J. Shaheen Award for Teaching Excellence was made possible with a generous donation from E.J. Shaheen, who was an original Board of Trustee member and led the Glen Oaks Foundation for many years. He believed that education was a lifetime priority and promoted high quality education throughout his life. Shaheen was a law professor at Notre Dame, and later in life owned Sutton Tool Company in Sturgis.

Juergen is executive director of communications and marketing at Glen Oaks Community College.

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