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Two-time Nursing Alumna Reflects on May 4 Tragedy
In the spring of 1970, two-time alumna Pat Gless, MSN ’93, BSN ’71, RN, was a junior in Kent State University’s inaugural nursing program. While in class on Monday, May 4, a professor rushed into her classroom and warned students who could leave campus to do so. “Campus felt very somber, like someone was invading our space. We weren’t sure what was going to happen; we were living in a time of unknown,” remembers Pat. “It was frightening to see the National Guard soldiers on campus. Their vehicles were everywhere, and I really wanted to leave.” A commuter student, Pat returned to her home in Ravenna, OH, where she later learned about the campus shootings from the radio. Fifty years later, Pat now reflects on the events surrounding that tragedy and how they have impacted her life and nursing career.
parking lot from the former location of her back window
Pat’s home sat beside the old Ravenna hospital, where she also worked. Looking out the back window, she saw the Emergency Room parking lot overflow with people, not long after, she was called into work. Assigned to the intensive care unit as a nurse tech, Pat was tasked with assisting the nurses in providing care for some of the May 4 injured. “It was like I was suspended in time; it was very strange and hard to process,” Pat remembers. “Our purpose was to provide care to the patients and that’s what I forced my mind to concentrate on because everything else was overwhelming.”
In the months leading up to May 4, Pat recalled that many students would march from downtown Kent to the campus to protest the Vietnam War. “My brother, cousins, an uncle, and a few friends from high school were serving in Vietnam. I had a vested interest in wanting to get them all home,” said Pat. Remembering back, Pat explained the complex mixture of people on campus. “There were students who had served in Vietnam and who were now attending Kent State. Some of the National Guardsmen were also students. It was such a complicated mixture of people who were all about the same age. People had strong opinions.”
The marches and protests occurred during a time when students were expected to be obedient. “I don’t think many adults were used to young people talking against the government or showing their disapproval by marching together,” said Pat. “Following May 4, it was the only thing people talked about wherever you went, even outside the city. If you were traveling and you mentioned you were from Kent, people knew right away about the conflict on campus and asked about it. It took a long time for things to settle down.”
The university closed down immediately following the shootings. With only a few weeks remaining in the quarter, Pat remembers wondering if she would have to transfer somewhere else to graduate on time. “Our instructors sent us our assignments in the mail. We would complete the work and send it back,” said Pat. “It was strictly book work and papers, and that’s how we completed our quarter.” The university resumed classes beginning in the summer quarter.
Pat believes one of the factors that contributed to the May 4 shootings was a breakdown of communication, and she has made that a focus in both her life and nursing career. “My experiences have helped to sharpen my communication skills. I listen more,” said Pat. “I asked myself how I could help make things better in the world and the answer was to listen and find out what people need.
It was Pat’s mother who inspired her to become a nurse. “She was such a good role model for me,” Pat remembers fondly. “My mom was a nursing supervisor and I thought that was something I could do as well.” A nurse for 40 years before retirement, Pat has experience working in med surg, the intensive care, step-down and pre-admission testing. She later went on to become an instructor at Malone College of Nursing and work in the simulation lab at the University of Akron School of Nursing before returning to the bedside for the last decade of her career.
“Kent State provided me with a good, solid education to go out into the world and do all the different things I’ve done,” said Pat. “Part of my heart is always at Kent State. All my family members have gone here, and my grandson is a current student majoring in computer science.”
Many of Pat’s family members share her interest in the time around May 4 and they often join her when she comes to campus for memorial events. “I truly appreciate their involvement in the history and how it’s become important to them,” Pat said. “While in high school, my grandson was a member of a student organization which served Vietnam veterans and raised funds to build a library in Vietnam for children. Three generations later, our family is still reflecting on that time and trying to make the world better. It makes me so proud because a lot of people were affected back then.”
Pat hopes current Kent State students take the time to examine the May 4 shootings and learn from the history. “Use this new knowledge to actively listen to others’ opinions and be respectful of different generations,” said Pat. “We all come from a unique perspective, but we need to try to exist in a respectful and accepting world with those around us.”
Attend Panel Discussion Featuring Pat, Other Experts
On Wednesday, October 2, 2019, Pat will share her story as part of a panel discussion alongside Claudia Cihlar, Ph.D., APRN-BC, CNS; Doug Delahanty, Ph.D.; and Sarah Ostrowski-Delahanty, Ph.D., during Kent State College of Nursing’s May 4th Commemorative event moderated by Associate Dean Wendy Umberger, Ph.D. at 7:00 p.m. in the KIVA. This panel discussion will take place following a May 4 Site Walking Tour with Alan Canfora, May 4 survivor at 5:30 p.m. Both events are free and open to the public.