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Half-century of Healing

Pair of local nurses have spent at least 50 years in profession

September 13, 2009
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

Given the stress of the job, not everyone is cut out for a career in nursing.

However, there are at least a couple of local nurses who stayed in the profession and are still working at least 50 years after they first started.

Janice Cobb-Carelli, 73, of Johnstown has spent 50 years working as a nurse. The only time she did not spend as a nurse in the last half-century was when she had her three children, and when her parents died.

Article Photos

The Leader-Herald/Rodney Minor

Janice Cobb-Carelli is shown working at Wells Nursing?Home in?Johnstown Friday. She has spent 50 years working as a nurse.

Her journey into the nursing profession did not begin locally. It started in La Crosse, Wis.

After being raised in the area, Cobb-Carelli took a trip when she was 17 to visit her sister in La Crosse.

"It was a lovely place," she said Tuesday.

Her sister suggested Cobb-Carelli find a job and spend some more time in the area. At that point in her life, she had the skills to be a secretary.

However, she said, when she applied at St. Francis Hospital in La Crosse, Cobb-Carelli was informed they did not need any secretaries. What they did have a desperate need for were nurses' aides.

"So I did the training," she said. "and I fell in love with it."

For Diana Elmendorf, nursing has always been her passion. It's a good thing, because earlier this month she celebrated her 55th anniversary of working as a nurse.

The lifelong Gloversville resident started her training at Nathan Littauer Hospital in 1951. She graduated in 1954, and spent the next 55 years working as a nurse, primarily in the operating room and recovery room.

"I think [nursing] is a wonderful profession," Elmendorf said.

For Cobb-Carelli, the road to becoming a nurse did not end in La Crosse. While she stayed over a year, eventually Cobb-Carelli got homesick and came back. When she did, she got a job at the old Nathan Littauer Hospital, working in the operating room sterilizing instruments.

However, she wanted to do more. So she went to St. Mary's Hospital School of Nursing in Amsterdam and spent three years training to be a nurse. She graduated in 1959.

Cobb-Carelli has worked at a number of places since then, including Tryon.

While Elmendorf said the pay has improved over the years, neither got into the profession for riches.

Cobb-Carelli recalled making a few dollars an hour. And she had to "bust her butt" to do it.

Cobb-Carelli, a born-again Christian, gives God all of the credit for what happened.

Both ladies now work on a per-diem basis. The 76-year-old Elmendorf works in the recovery room at Littauer Hospital. Cobb-Carelli works at Wells Nursing Home as a night supervisor. It works for her because the nursing home is flexible enough to allow her time off when she needs it.

"I enjoy it," Cobb-Carelli said.

Renee Swartz, the director of nursing at Wells Nursing Home, said it is not common to have nurses who have worked for 50 years in the profession.

"[Cobb-Carelli] is a great asset," she said. "I give her a lot of credit for doing what she has done all these years."

Among the biggest changes Cobb-Carelli has seen in her 50 years on the job, she said, is the growth of the insurance companies. Keeping pace have been state and federal regulations.

While that may seem like the sort of information more important to some political debate about health care policy, Cobb-Carelli said it has had a very real influence on her job as a nurse. Documentation, specifically, has become more important over the years.

"You have to keep up with [requirements]," she said.

Working in the operating room and recovery room, Elmendorf said, she has seen many changes in surgical procedures over the years. The improvement in some areas has been so great, people now go home hours after a procedure that used to require a stay in the hospital.

Cobb-Carelli said she would not dissuade a young person from getting into the profession. When she works with young nurses, she can see the interest in caring for people some of them have.

"A lot of girls can't find their niche," she said. "But God has a plan."

For many young girls, she said, she would suggest they be willing to try working at different places. A nursing home can be a very different environment than a school, for example.

Elmendorf said there is always some sort of demand or nursing. Given that nurses now work in so many more places than just a hospital, which was not the case when she started, there are more options available for people interested in the profession.

Working at the Wells Nursing Home, Cobb-Carelli said, she meets wonderful elderly people. It is a pleasure to her to provide some comfort to them.

"These elderly people have so many wonderful stories," she said.

Her daughter, Sheila Danylak, said everyone who lived near them knew her mother was a nurse. It was a common occurrence for visitors to stop by with a questions related to their health. Danylak recalled her mother always tried to help and comfort those people. It was in keeping with her character, given her mother volunteered her services for everything from riding along with the Johnstown Area Volunteer Ambulance Corps to helping give allergy shots.

Danylak herself still goes to her mother with questions. She described how comforting Cobb-Carelli was after Danylak's husband experienced some complications after a recent hip surgery.

When she told her mom the medication recommended by the doctors for her husband, Cobb-Carelli told her the doctors had made an excellent choice, as she had seen the drug work well for patients with similar problems.

"It gave me the peace I needed," Danylak said.

Cobb-Carelli said she has no plans to retire.

"That word is not in my vocabulary," she said.

Cobb-Carelli noted, with a laugh, even if she retired, she would wind up doing first aid anyway.



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