By K. Woodzick, Editor
I never met my Grandmother Carol. She passed away eleven years before I was born. The most notable memory I have about her is visiting her memorial plaque in front of the Monticello entrance of the Howard Young Medical Center in Woodruff.
As my parents tell the story, I was seven years old, and they held my hand as they showed me the tree planted to honor her legacy. In front of the tree was a marble plaque.
I looked up at my parents in dismay and exclaimed, “Mommy, Daddy, that doesn’t say Woodzick! They spelled her name wrong!”
My parents examined the engraving and, sure enough, one letter was in error. (This is obviously where my career as an editor and lifelong proofreader began.)
The plaque was corrected, but my curiosity about the life and career of my grandmother remained. Last week, I asked my father to share some of his memories of her over dinner.
Carol was born in Lake Tomahawk on November 4th, 1911. She was one of nine siblings in the large Wolosz family. In the winter, the family would attach horses to their sleigh and travel to McNaughton, where they would leave the horses and ride the train to Rhinelander to attend Mass given in Polish. Grandpa Wolosz would take a shotgun along in case they saw any rabbits while riding on the sleigh.
Carol, her older sister, Helen, and younger sister, Dorothy, all pursued careers in nursing. The girls decided to attend Rhinelander High School in order to take the chemistry classes required for admission to nursing school at St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago.
After graduating, Carol served as a private nurse for an older member of the Loeb family from Chicago. This job took her to the Bahamas, among other places. When her father’s health started to fail, Carol left this position and moved back to the Northwoods in 1939. She soon met her husband-to-be, Louis Woodzick, who had recently started the Fisherman’s Shop in Hazelhurst.
My father shared, “It was really only a matter of time: two large Polish Catholic families in the same area of Wisconsin. One mostly boys, one mostly girls. It was almost fated that two of the children would meet and get married.”
Carol and Louis were married on May 3, 1941, at Saint Patrick’s Church in Minocqua by Monsignor Mueller. According to the May 6th, issue of the Rhinelander Daily News, “Attired in a fitted white chiffon gown with a train and a finger-tip veil caught with a wreath of orange blossoms, the bride carried a bouquet of sweetheart roses, white carnations and babies’ breath.”
My father was born in November of 1942. By that time, Louis was serving in World War II as a Technical Sergeant. His decorations included an EAME theatre ribbon with four bronze battle stars and a bronze arrowhead, a Croix de Guerre, a Victory ribbon, and a Good Conduct Medal. Carol took over the management of the Fisherman’s Shop until he returned in 1946. Her younger sister, Dorothy, had the good fortune to sell a pack of gum to a teenaged Elizabeth Taylor.
In 1954, Carol saw Dr. Kate Newcomb appear on “This Is Your Life,” hosted by Ralph Edwards. It had become evident that a medical center was needed between Rhinelander and Tomahawk. Otto Burich, a math teacher at the Arbor Vitae-Woodruff School, came up with the idea to collect a million pennies in support of this effort.
My father remembers going to the Woodruff High School gym with his younger sister, Jean, to open envelopes that had been sent in from all over the country with pennies, nickels and dimes. Volunteers would gather to count the donations.
Carol inquired about working at the new Lakeland Memorial Hospital and decided to pursue her nursing recertification in Chicago that same year. She served as a nurse at Lakeland Memorial/Howard Young Medical Center for twenty years. She was promoted to both the Surgical Nurse and Head Nurse during her time there. Howard Young would personally request her to administer his shots as he insisted that she could give a shot without inflicting any pain.
My father recalls that Carol would carry a pager when she would go berry picking in the summer. She could be called back into the operating room at a moment’s notice. My mother shared that people would tell stories about Carol going above and beyond to make sure that patients would get the medicine and supplies they required to be healthy, even if they couldn’t afford them.
Carol worked as a nurse until 1974, when she passed away. Louis passed away 18 years after Carol. They rest together under a birch tree at the Lakeside Cemetery in Hazelhurst. Their shared tombstone reads, “In wilderness lies the preservation of the world.”
I am proud of and overwhelmed by the lives of service led by both of my grandparents. In doing my research for his piece, I had trouble locating Carol’s plaque. I called the front desk of Howard Young Medical Center and was put in touch with an extremely helpful nurse named Rebecca. She took the time out of her day to walk the grounds with me and find the tree, which had grown exponentially since I had visited it last.
Carol was one of the first nurses to make a career in Woodruff, but her legacy lives on in the kind and knowledgeable frontline medical workers who work at both hospitals in the area. As I walked back to my car, I thanked Rebecca for her time and waved goodbye to both her and my grandmother.
K. Woodzick is a life-long theatre artist and has over a decade of experience as a non-profit marketing professional and writer. They live in Woodruff with their silver lab, River.