The desire to help others began early for Kathy Evans, BSN, RN. As a toddler, she learned firsthand the impact nurses provide–and felt a calling to one day become a caregiver herself.

“I was 16 months old and wanted to give my baby doll a bath,” Corewell Health’s Gerber hospital senior quality improvement specialist Kathy Evans, BSN, RN, recalled.

Her mother was hanging laundry outside, and Evans made her way through a barricaded bathroom door to the tub and turned on the hot water.

She severely burned her feet, which required multiple skin grafts over a period of 20 years beginning when she was just 4 years old.

“Even though I was very young, I was so enamored by the nurses and how caring they were. They left an indelible impression on me, and I knew from that moment on I would become a nurse someday,” Evans said.

From Gray Lady to skilled nurse

When Evans was 14, she volunteered with the American Red Cross. They placed her at Gerber hospital–the hospital where she was born.

“Back in those days, the hospital didn’t have candy stripers … they had the Gray Ladies,” Evans said. “I’m certain I was the youngest Gray Lady there.”

She delivered mail, watered plants, filled water and juice pitchers, and helped wherever she could. This experience oriented her to the hospital and provided the opportunity to discover if nursing was really what she wanted to do.

During high school, she attended the local career tech center and earned her certification as a nurse’s aide.

The instructor indicated Gerber hospital was looking for someone to do clerical work, preferably someone with a CNA background who knew medical terminology.

The instructor put a few students forward for an interview, including Evans.

“Sally Jones, director of nursing, she had the best laugh,” Evans said. “She led me to believe the job was mine, but never really told me one way or the other. Come to find out, I was a no-show for my very first day of work at the hospital.”

It turned out Jones forgot to let her know she had gotten the job–something they’d laugh about together later.

Evans continued working at Gerber hospital in the summers and on weekends while attending nursing school.

She graduated in 1983 from Bronson School of Nursing and began working as an RN on 6 North at what was then Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids.

In 1998, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Ferris State University.

Life then pulled Evans away from Michigan.

Married and on the move

She married the love of her life, Jerry, in 1985 and moved to Indianapolis where he completed a 20-year career with the U.S. Army.

In 1991 it was time for a change. They wanted to be closer to family. This meant either moving to Miami, Florida, or the much smaller Fremont, Michigan.

They ultimately chose Fremont to raise their future family.

A walk down memory lane

“It was so nice to come back, not only to Gerber hospital, but home to Fremont,” Evans said.

Her family lived on Oak Street, three houses down from the hospital, when she was 5 years old.

“We used to sled at the county judge’s house where the parking lot is now next to the Professional Office Building. And, the parking lot next to where Gerber’s digital services team is located, that used to be our ball diamond where we’d play as kids.”

Evans also fondly remembers several women who were role models while she attended school and worked as a nurse’s aide at Gerber hospital.

“When I came back in 1991, I was so excited to learn that some of the people who took me under their wings still worked here after all those years,” Evans said.

“They were able to see me now, all grown up. I secretly hoped they were proud of me for all I had learned and the nurse I had become.”

She recalls one of those women–Mary Jane Pendergast.

“She came across as stern at times, but when you got to know her, you couldn’t have found a nicer woman. I remember she had this organza hat she would wear high on her head. She was the epitome of professionalism,” Evans said.

Then there was Vera Henning.

“Vera worked on 1 East, what is now Gerber hospital’s outpatient surgery,” Evans said.

Evans described Henning as a hard-working soul who taught her about work ethic.

“She would tell me, ‘I don’t care what my title is, I am not above doing anything if it needs to be done.’ That was in the era when nurses charted and passed meds, and rounded with the physicians. I learned from her that no matter what education level you are at, if it’s the right thing to do, and you are capable of doing it, you just do it,” Evans said.

Finally, there was Myrtle Ivey.

“Ivey was so laid back and so kind,” Evans said. “She had this special way about her … she could just connect with her patients in this magical and meaningful way. And I distinctly remember her wearing White Shoulders perfume.”

Evans reconnected with her when Ivey was visiting a patient in the hospital.

“I barely recognized her at first. It was so wonderful to reconnect with Ivey after all these years.

“And yes, she still wore White Shoulders perfume.”

A remarkable 40 years

On April 23, 2023, Evans celebrated 40 years as a registered nurse.

Throughout her career, she has given family members comfort when a loved one has passed.

And she helped Gerber hospital and the Fremont community navigate their way through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When the pandemic hit in 2020, it was remarkable to witness our community rally together to support health care workers,” Evans said. “Some nights the hospital parking lot would be filled with supporters who came to show their gratitude. It gave us all hope.”

For the last eight years she has worked as a quality improvement specialist.

As she learned all those years ago, it didn’t matter what her title was, or what her position was. When COVID-19 arrived, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work, helping anywhere she could.

“Even though I wasn’t working as an RN on the floor, I wasn’t going to let that stop me from doing whatever needed to be done to help our nurses, providers and team members,” she said.

‘Passing the baton’

Having a passion for helping others runs deep in her family.

Evans’s oldest daughter, Liz, is a physical therapist in Chicago.

Her middle daughter, Emily, and her husband, both work for a pharmaceutical company in Switzerland and blessed Evans with her first grandchild last year.

And her youngest child, Jake, is a devil doc, an elite Navy corpsman assigned to a Marine unit. In August, he will graduate from Auburn University with his Bachelor of Science in nursing.

“It’s bittersweet,” Evans said. “As I look toward retirement in a few years, he’s just beginning his career. It’s kind of like passing the baton.”

Advice for future nurses

She admits that while her advice has changed over the years, one thing has remained the same.

“It has to be a passion,” she said.

“It can’t be just ‘a job.’ It truly has to be your passion. You have to be willing to work hard and give of yourself–your physical, emotional and spiritual self. You will experience joy, and you will experience heartache. But in the end, it is one of the most rewarding professions out there.”

“I’ve loved it … and I still love it to this very day,” Evans said. “It’s the core of who I am.”

As for her future, she looks forward to retirement in a few years.

“I never truly understood people who looked so forward to retirement,” she said. “But I am getting closer to understanding it. I’ve worked for many, many years, and am now seeing the draw. Your priorities change.”

She hopes to spend more time with family, read more fiction novels and volunteer in the community.