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Decades of Dedication: Mary Pat Zwack and Mary Fulton Bid Farewell to Shriners Children's

Mary and Mary Pat

Mary Pat and Mary on their last day working together

After a combined service of over seven decades, nurses Mary Pat Zwack, BSN, RN-BC, CCM, and Mary Fulton, RN, are bidding a heartfelt farewell to Shriners Children's, leaving behind a legacy of compassion and commitment. As they embark on the retirement chapter in their lives, we had the privilege of sitting down with them to reminisce about their remarkable careers and the countless lives they've touched.

Mary Pat joined the Shriners Children’s nursing team first, in 1980. She took a brief hiatus after six years and returned in 1990, right around the same time that Mary started her tenure. That year holds special significance for Shriners Children’s Twin Cities history as well, as it marks the opening of the second building. Both Mary Pat and Mary remember the brand new, state-of-the art hospital, and reminisced about how some of their first tasks at work were packing and unpacking boxes. Not exactly the nursing work they signed up for, but being the team players they have always been, they chipped in with the rest of the employees.

Both women started their nursing careers at Shriners Children’s on the inpatient unit. Mary helped out on the special care unit starting in 1994 when pediatrician Deborah Smith-Wright, M.D., joined the team and opened the unit. Mary noted that witnessing the growth and changes in treatment over the years has really been spectacular, getting kids home and on the road to recovery quicker.

Both nurses cherish memories of the lively atmosphere of the hospital, as the average length of stay on the inpatient unit in the 1990s was around five days. They remember Monday night bingo with the Shriners, movie nights, and regular Sunday visits with a Shriner named Smiley, who would bring earrings to share with staff. Memories of Halloween parties, Shrine Bowl Football player visits, and visits from animals - including elephants walking down the steps of the back yard patio, trout fishing ponds for the kids, and wildlife like deer, fox, coyotes and turkeys on the property, flood back to the pair. "So much has happened over the years that go beyond the medical care, which is truly what makes Shriners Children’s, Shriners Children’s," said Mary.

three staff members

Celebrating Nurses Week in 2022

"The camps and activities provided by Maureen Johnston (who has been with Shriners Children’s for 34 years herself) and the child life department over the years are beyond comparison. The kids benefit so much, and it’s life-changing for so many of them,” praised Mary.

They credit Mary Eichmiller, RN, a fellow nurse and the director of the inpatient unit for many years, as the greatest manager they've ever had, highlighting the camaraderie among the nurses who essentially grew up together. “While working on the inpatient unit, I got married, gave birth to three of my four children, went back to school for my BSN, and lost my parents and brother. Many of us nurses were around the same age going through similar things, and were a great support to one another,” recalled Mary Pat fondly.

As they recount decades of memories, several included Minnesota snowstorms. During one storm, the administrator at the time, Larry Johnson, actually drove around the metro in an old Volkswagen van (that may or may not have had a hole in the floor) to pick up staff! Mary said, “One trip in that van was enough for me, I cross-country skied in to work after that since I only lived a couple of miles away.” Mary Pat recalls receiving a ride to work in said van, but then was stuck without a ride home! Both nurses recall sleeping overnight several times throughout their careers, and helping in the cafeteria on numerous accounts when other staff members couldn’t make it in due to snow. Talk about a pair of dedicated employees!

At separate times in 2004, both transitioned to the outpatient clinic. Mary Pat spent 14 years working as a clinic nurse for Cary Mielke, M.D., and enjoyed many crazy busy clinic days with him.

They are in complete agreement that the list of incredible doctors and medical providers that they’ve worked with over the years is very long. Memories of Tuesday conferences where all of the medical professionals collaborated to find the best care solutions for each patient came back to them both. Sometimes the patients themselves would come to the conference and essentially be examined by all of the providers at once: Now that’s collaboration!

staff members and Shriners

Mary Pat with outreach staff in Rapid City, South Dakota, in 2019


They feel that family-centered care and outreach clinics were standout features that set Shriners Children’s apart. “I have really enjoyed planning and attending outreach clinics for many years,” shared Mary Pat. “Going into the communities where our patients live helped me get a better understanding of how their lives are, and how important it is to provide the best care for each individual.”

Most recently, both of their roles have been in care management, serving as a resource for families throughout the treatment plan, and helping navigate the process so the family can focus on their child and help them recover. Care managers help with questions regarding appointments, follow-up care or any other general needs. They act as a patient advocate and resource link, making sure the medical staff understands each family's specific situation, and they connect families with appropriate services.

Among only a handful of employees who have been with the organization over 30 years, Mary and Mary Pat have experienced many changes along with wonderful memories, and have stories upon stories of children they’ve care for and colleagues they’ve worked with. From working in three different buildings, to charting by hand in different colored pens for days, nights and weekends, to transitioning to multiple digital systems over the years, both women have a hard time believing how much change they have seen in their tenure.

As they bid farewell and look forward to a more unstructured lifestyle, Mary Pat and Mary implore the staff to stay flexible, embrace change, and most importantly to continue the mission of serving children and their families. They express gratitude for the unique experiences and the incredible impact Shriners Children’s has had on countless lives. They leave behind a rich tapestry of memories, laughter, and invaluable contributions to Shriners Children's. We wish them well in this new chapter, knowing that their legacy will continue to inspire and resonate for decades to come.

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