It is not uncommon to hear applause and a few shouts of congratulations at a college graduation or a similar event.
But at each nurse pinning ceremony at Northeast Community College over the past 40 years, a standing ovation has been a common occurrence for one person in particular — Shirley Pohlman.
“Shirley always gets the loudest applause from students at our annual nurse pinning ceremony,” said Karen Weidner, director of the nursing program at Northeast. “Students and others have been so touched by her assistance in the college’s nursing program; they give her a heartfelt ovation each year when she is introduced.”
But now, after 45-and-a-half years of service to the college and its predecessor institutions, Pohlman has retired from her position as executive assistant in the nursing program.
“This is a sad day because we are losing a great person who has been a tremendous supporter to the Northeast nursing program and to the college,” Weidner said. “I want to thank Shirley for her dedication and commitment to our program and our students.”
Pohlman’s time with Northeast began before the community college system in Nebraska was formed.
She started work as a secretary at Norfolk Junior College on April 1, 1968.
Over the course of time, her job title changed to executive assistant while the college transformed from Norfolk Junior College to Northeastern Nebraska College to Northeast Nebraska Technical College to Northeast Technical Community College to Northeast Community College.
Pohlman saw the program move from the basement of the former Norfolk Junior College in downtown Norfolk to the present campus at 801 E. Benjamin Ave. The nursing program, previously housed in the Maclay and Ag/Allied Health buildings, is now an integral part of the J. Paul and Eleanor McIntosh College of Nursing on the Norfolk campus.
“She has been here a lot longer than many of the buildings on campus,” Weidner said, which drew laughter from family, friends and colleagues who attended a recent retirement reception.
Pohlman received her associate of arts degree from Northeast Technical Community College in 1985. In 1997, she earned a bachelor of arts degree from Concordia University, graduating with high distinction. She also taught medical terminology within the Northeast nursing program. In 1994, Pohlman was awarded the FirsTier Award for Excellence for Support Staff by her peers at Northeast.
“Shirley is the go-to person if you need anything. If she doesn’t have it, she knows who has the information,” Weidner said.
Weidner said Pohlman has made a positive impact on the 2,730 students who have matriculated in the Northeast program. She said that number does not include prospective students who have come in for advising or those who sought information about the nursing program.
Michele Gill, the new dean of health and wellness at Northeast Community College, said she has seen Pohlman’s impact on the students and the program in the short time she has been on campus.
“There are some special people who understand the importance of retaining students. And there a few people I can say that I have met in a very short time here that are part of our retention plan,” Gill said. “And Shirley, you are definitely one of those people. I hope you can share some of those retention skills, because we have to keep doing what you have been doing to make our students feel valued and important.”
Dr. Michael Chipps, president of Northeast Community College, told Pohlman she has accomplished much in her 45 years with Northeast.
“You have done it with grace and poise. There is so much loyalty, emotion and commitment at all levels in very intense programs such as nursing,” Chipps said. “It takes a personality like yours to be able to make that happen.”
Chipps said students have a heartfelt appreciation for Pohlman. “I have seen it over and over again,” he said.
“The feeling that I am having right now is really hard to describe,” Pohlman told the packed room at the reception. “It’s been a long journey, a good journey. I have learned so much from other people, and the students will always remain in my heart. I am glad to have known so many people over the years, from past faculty and staff to the current employees; it has been just wonderful.”
Weidner said Pohlman has made a major impact and has left a huge footprint on the Northeast nursing program and the college as a whole.
“It will be very difficult to fill her shoes. She is a very unique person and will be greatly missed by us all,” Weidner said.