By Steve St. Angelo
To Johns Hopkins classmates, they were “Bing and Bons,” a New Yorker and a midwesterner set side by side in the old Hampton House dormitory by alphabetical happenstance and academic like-mindedness, who forged an unbreakable bond through good times and bad. What are 50 years between friends like that?
A full life in nursing, that’s for sure.
Vicki “Bing” Bingham and Shirley “Bons” Bonser (’63) aren’t next door anymore, but they are “just around the corner,” having reunited as friends in Toledo, Ohio, meeting regularly to chat and, on the eve of their 50th class reunion, reminisce about the days as students at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the unpredictable, wonderful paths taken by two Hopkins nurses.
“My work history is varied,” Bing says. It’s an understatement. Now Vicki Haas, she grew up in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty on Governor’s Island, married a sailor from Michigan and moved there, taking her boards with Bons, now Shirley Schlender, who (as it happened) lived with new husband Keith in East Lansing. Bing began in the operating room, but seeing a neighbor’s death from cancer spurred an awakening and a switch to hospice care. When husband Alan, a General Motors employee, was transferred in 1980 to Florida, Bing moved into oncology, eventually returning to Michigan and “retiring” to care for her ill mother. Then one day a former supervisor called to ask if she’d like to work in peritoneal dialysis. “I said, ‘What? If you can’t remove it, radiate it, or give it chemo, I know nothing about it.’ She said they would teach me.” Ten “very good” years later, she retired for real, moving with her husband to be near kids and grandkids in Toledo. “Added to the delight of being here is, of course, Shirley and Keith,” she says.
Bons, raised in Nebraska, married after graduation, becoming Shirley Schlender and starting out in pediatrics. Through stops in East Lansing, Minneapolis (at Shriners Hospitals for Children—“What a great job that was!”), and Toledo, Bons also worked in a nursing home, a general practitioner’s office, university student health, federal employee health, med-school student health, and finally as an elementary school nurse. “I only missed OB, or I would have cared for people at all stages of life,” she jokes.
Through it all, they kept in touch and, with a class reunion set for September in Baltimore, looked back on their time at Johns Hopkins.
To Bing, Baltimore was a perfect fit, as comfortable as New York City. To “small-town girl” Bons, it was a wonder. Nearby New York, too. “I remember selling a unit of my blood for $25 to finance my trip [to NYC] and stay at the YWCA,” Bons says. And living at Johns Hopkins? “It was much like being in the military,” says Bons of dorms like Hampton House that no longer exist. “We studied, ate, slept, worked, socialized together, shared and bonded.”
Adds Bing, “I’m sorry young people today miss out on that closeness.”
“I wouldn’t trade my experience at Hopkins for anything,” says Bons.