WORTHINGTON - By all accounts, former Worthington Regional Hospital (now Sanford Worthington Medical Center) R.N. Dorothy Rutgers was a model nurse.

“She was a lovely woman who was very conscientious and cared a lot for her patients,” credited Karen Wiltrout, an R.N. who shared evening shift duties with Dorothy from 1977-85.

“Dorothy always put her patients first and was a kind and generous mentor to new nurses,” Wiltrout continued. “Those are wonderful qualities for a nurse to have.”

Fittingly, the Dorothy Rutgers Memorial Scholarship, which is supported by and funded through the Worthington Regional Health Care Foundation, Inc. (WRHCF), will serve to aid Sanford Worthington employees enrolled in R.N. programs, whether at the two-year, four-year or graduate level.

“This allows for one $2,500 scholarship annually, and the application deadline for the inaugural Dorothy Rutgers Memorial Scholarship is Aug. 1,” said Jeff Rotert, executive director of the WRHCF.

“The money will go directly to the student’s educational institution for tuition and educational expenses.”

Rotert and Wiltrout, a two-term WRHCF board member and current chair of the WRHCF scholarship committee, are humbled and energized by the rollout of the Dorothy Rutgers Memorial Scholarship.

“It’s a compelling story,” assured Rotert.

Dorothy, a 1949 graduate of the Presbyterian School of Nursing, married John Rutgers in September 1954. Together, the couple raised six children as John farmed east of Worthington and Dorothy continued to work, always at least part-time, as an R.N. at the Worthington hospital.

“They made it a priority to send all six of us to the Christian school in Worthington,” said Joann Talsma, the second eldest of the couple’s three sons and three daughters.

“Mom was a good mother, and Dad was a devoted father who was very devoted to God,” she continued. “He read the Bible and prayed before every meal, and he tried to instill those same good values in us.”

But on Aug. 12, 1985, as 57-year-old Dorothy was accompanying John’s parents on a trip to Willmar to visit one of Talsma’s sisters, the trio was tragically killed in a car crash.

“It was a terrible shock and an awful day,” commented Talsma, who was then 28; her youngest brother was 18 and had graduated from high school the preceding May.

Although John never remarried, he chose not to simply wallow in grief at prematurely losing his beloved wife and parents but instead decided to convert his painful loss into something meaningful and long lasting.

“John took out a life insurance policy under the WRHCF, with the stipulation that its monies were to be used as scholarships for R.N.s,” explained Rotert. “He wanted to create a living legacy, to give back and do something for the community and the hospital.

“What better way to do that than to create a memorial scholarship honoring his late wife.”

When John, who volunteered daily at the Bibles for Missions Thrift Store in downtown Worthington from its opening in 2000 until about 2015, died in March at the age of 87, his children and other descendants (17 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren) learned the full extent of his generosity.

“I knew Dad had been giving some money to the WRHCF, but after he’d passed away, I was kind of surprised about the total investment and that it would become a scholarship,” said Talsma, who also lost her oldest brother in the past month.

“Dad was always thoughtful, generous and enjoyed giving to good causes, so when we started talking about it, we found it very exciting,” she related. “It’s a great way to remember our mother.”

Talsma remembers the value Dorothy placed on her nursing profession, and that her father also held the local hospital and its health care workers in high esteem.

“When we were growing up, Mom mostly worked part-time, but she loved going to work,” recalled Talsma. “She liked the people she worked with, and she liked taking care of patients and the variety each day presented.

“And when other nurses called to see if she could cover for them, 90 percent of the time she’d go in for them,” laughed Talsma, thus indicating her mother’s conscientiousness and reliability.

Interestingly, none of Dorothy’s children or grandchildren followed her footsteps into health care, making it even more appropriate that John’s vision of a scholarship in Dorothy’s name to assist R.N.s in furthering their training will perpetuate her name.

Nevertheless, Dorothy’s family is familiar with the benefits skilled health care can provide.

“My dad, especially in his later years, appreciated having good health care close to home,” said Talsma. “He had a heart condition and was able to get a lot of his initial care in Worthington, and I am a breast cancer survivor who received treatment in Worthington.”

Wiltrout is pleased to see her former colleague’s name and legacy being preserved.

“It’s nice this is finally coming to fruition,” agreed Wiltrout. “The Rutgers were so generous, and the foundation is very grateful to have the opportunity to help nurses advance as John wished.

Wiltrout stresses there is an increasing need for health care professionals in rural communities like Worthington, and in addition to the Dorothy Rutgers Memorial Scholarship, other WRHCF scholarships for health care workers exist - also with application deadlines of Aug. 1.

“We hope the community will see the Dorothy Rutgers Memorial Scholarship as an example of what can be done to honor a parent or other loved one,” said Rotert. “Our foundation is set up to help create scholarships such as this one, and we can assist in helping people create a memorial, or a gift for a specific purpose; we can handle anything of that nature.

“It’s a terrific way to have a meaningful impact on the Worthington area and the health care and overall wellness of people here.”

Wiltrout and the other WRHCF scholarship committee members are eager for qualified applicants to step forward to take advantage of the Dorothy Rutgers Memorial Scholarship and the additional health care professional scholarships they administer.

“This is the first year the scholarship has been offered, so we’re trying to spread the word,” said Wiltrout.

Added Rotert, “We’re grateful that John Rutgers had the foresight to create such a great opportunity here.

“We’re striving to fulfill his vision.”

Aug. 1 is the application deadline for the inaugural WRHCF Dorothy Rutgers Memorial Scholarship and for other WRHCF health care professional scholarships for the 2017-18 academic year. Visit wrhcf.com and click on the scholarship tab for more information and criteria for these scholarships.

For more information about creating a memorial scholarship through the WRHCF, contact Jeff Rotert at 372- 2919.