President's Wife Has Found Her Niche in Community

by Wade Coggeshall

January 24, 2007

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For Chris White, her introduction to the Crawfordsville community began almost immediately.

The first week she and her husband Pat, who’s set to be inaugurated this weekend as Wabash College’s 15th president, were in Crawfordsville, they attended the Montgomery County 4-H Fair. She remembers numerous citizens introducing themselves.

It’s only snowballed from there.

"It’s amazing how many people I guess I do know already," she said.

A lot of that is her fault. Not content to merely be the wife of a college president or spend days padding around the big, antebellum Elston Homestead mansion they call home, White has joined a number of local civic organizations to provide her input.

She’s a member of Crawfordsville Main Street and accepted an invitation to serve on the board of the Christian Nursing Service. She’s also now affiliated with the county chapter of the League of Women Voters, an organization she was a member of while living in Iowa.

"We’re pretty much ensconced in the community," White said. "The only thing we lack is kids in the school corporations." That’s only because their three children have moved on to college.

But it’s the health-care world where White offers the most expertise.

As a registered nurse she worked as a staff member at University of Iowa hospitals. After seven years White decided to go to grad school, citing a desire to be on the front end of health care. She earned a master’s in community health nursing and shifted her focus to preventing health problems rather than treating them. While Pat spent the past 18 years serving as vice president and dean of faculty at St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Chris was teaching at Indiana University South Bend’s School of Nursing. During the same time she also got certified to be a family nurse practitioner from Valparaiso University, a position she hopes to resume once she’s settled here.

"I really enjoyed that part of being a nurse," White said. "It allowed me not only to work in a community, but work individually with patients, to see what their life experiences are and try to put them on a path to wellness and thinking more about how to take care of themselves."

Even with a full-time teaching job, part-time nurse gig and a family, White still found the energy to entrench herself in local issues.

When the Whites moved to St. Joseph County, there were only two sites there where children could be immunized using public health dollars. Research suggests children should be vaccinated by age 2. At that time in St. Joseph County, only 32 percent of children were being vaccinated by then. White banded with other nurses to form a branch of the national organization Every Child By Two. When she left South Bend, there were 14 locations for vaccinations in the county, and rates were up in the 90 percentile.  

White also has written grants, one of which was a federal grant for a comprehensive sexuality education program for South Bend schools. It was approved by the Department of Health and Human Services, one of only 20 from more than 700. Officials started the program in middle schools, and brought in high school students to teach some of its components. The students responded well, resulting in a drop in teen pregnancy rates, sexual activity and sexually transmitted diseases there.

"It’s good to see the results of those efforts," White said. She’s continuing such endeavors in Crawfordsville.

White is already serving on Crawfordsville schools’ AIDS/communicable disease task force. She’s working with other citizens on a curriculum for AIDS education in schools.

"It’s good to have community members there offering input, working with teachers and parents and students," White said. "That’s healthy. It shows everybody has a stake, and everybody should be invested in the process."

That’s been her philosophy all along. "I’m a community health nurse, which means I think the community is absolutely vital," White said. "As a community health nurse and as a citizen, I feel it’s my responsibility to contribute to the overall health of the community. So I’m very engaged, and I will be."

She extends that axiom to the town/gown relationship between Wabash and the surrounding community.

"The health of Wabash is dependent on the health of Crawfordsville, and the health of Crawfordsville is dependent on the health of Wabash," White says. "Maybe it’s not a symbiotic relationship, but certainly synergetic because they contribute more to one another’s environments."

Coggeshall is a former reporter for the Crawfordsville Journal Review.


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