USF receives endowed gift

The care given by nursing students from the University of St. Francis (USF) so impressed Jeanette A. Wirt that she endowed a scholarship to ensure that future generations of nurses would continue to receive a quality education.

Mrs. Wirt, of Joliet, who died in 2008 after a battle with cancer, donated more than $250,000 from her estate to nursing scholarships. “She talked with the nurses and students while she was in the hospital to learn more about their lives and where they came from,” said her husband, Leon. “She was all heart,” he said. “When she came home from the hospital, she said I want to help the nurses and nursing program.”

USF President Arvid Johnson and Carol Wilson, dean of the Leach College of Nursing, greeted Wirt during a recent visit to the university. “Scholarships for our students are critical,” said Johnson. “About 96 percent of our students receive financial assistance. And, with 68 percent of our last freshman class being the first in their families to attend college, scholarship support is absolutely essential to their success.”

University of St. Francis Leach College of Nursing Dean Carol Wilson explains nursing simulation lab capabilities to benefactor, Leon Wirt, who established a scholarship in the name of his late wife Jeanette A. Wirt.

University of St. Francis Leach College of Nursing Dean Carol Wilson explains nursing simulation lab capabilities to benefactor, Leon Wirt, who established a scholarship in the name of his late wife Jeanette A. Wirt.

Nurses are also among the highest need for professions in our area, added Johnson. “This is a wonderful legacy and a wonderful gift to the future that Mrs. and Mr. Wirt have provided. It will support nurses long into the future.”

“USF has educated three generations of caring and highly skilled nurses,” said Wilson. “At USF, students receive one of the finest nursing educations available, preparing nurses to be a competent clinicians and advocates for their patients. Mrs. Wirt not only experienced this legacy, she is making it possible for future nurses to carry on.”

USF nursing students learn to work with state-of-the-art technology and equipment, but also to be ethical and caring health care providers, said Wilson, who gave Wirt a tour of the university’s Cecily & John Leach College of Nursing on July 18. She demonstrated the college’s simulation and skills labs. Wirt also met with faculty members and master of science in nursing students who were making presentations at their annual Scholarship Day.

“I’m so proud and excited about what my wife’s legacy will mean to the future that I could burst,” said Wirt.

Mrs. Wirt’s estate is from the 210-acre Sing Farm property that extended from Black Road to Jefferson Street and is now a major commercial area for Joliet. The farm was begun in 1904 by her parents Henry and Leora Sing.

A passionate lover of music and playing the piano, Mrs. Wirt volunteered throughout the area, performing at nursing homes and hospitals. Mrs. Wirt was also a regular volunteer at the now Presence Saint Joseph Medical Center. “She was just a natural piano player, and she loved to play polka music on her organ,” Wirt recalled.

The Wirts tragically lost their sons, Doug, 9, and Dan, 7, in a 1969 auto accident as the family traveled to visit friends, but their love for life and one another sustained. “We lost our sons, but it made us closer,” said Leon, who was married to Jeannette for almost 50 years.

Mr. Wirt and his sister, who grew up in Iowa, were among the first in their county to attend college, so he appreciates the value of education. A U.S. Army veteran, he became an engineer and had a 36-year career at Caterpillar. He also holds 21 patents.

Along with her husband, Mrs. Wirt is survived by her daughter, Marti Wood, son-in-law Doug and grandchildren, A.J. and Holli of Woodridge.

“There has never been a better time to choose nursing as a career,” added Wilson. “Nursing will be at the frontline of health care reform and it is critical that we offer the highest level of education for these professionals, which makes the Wirt Scholarship all the more important.”

“Our master’s degrees for Family Nurse Practitioners (FNP), Nurse Administrators, Nurse Educators and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP) prepare students to function at higher levels as Advanced Practice Nurses (APN), nursing leaders and nurse educators. With healthcare reform, these are the nurses who will be the face of primary care within the community,” Wilson said.

The Leach College of Nursing offers the bachelor of science (BSN) in traditional and online programs, along with a bridge program with Joliet Junior College. Master of science in nursing (MSN) programs are offered, along with a Teaching in Nursing Certificate and the doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

The University of St. Francis serves 3,400 students nationwide, offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs in arts and science, business, education, nursing, health care and social work. For information, call (800) 735-7500 or visit

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Nancy Pohlman, Executive Director of Community Relations
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