At Wesley Acres, Nondas Beswick was an institution, a superhero -- a Director of Nursing of 17-plus-years' tenure who helped make the health center in Wesley Life's flagship community the powerhouse it is.
Marie Mealiff knows all that; she worked closely with Nondas for 16 of those years. As Administrator alongside the formidable DON, Marie witnessed first-hand the signature strength, talent, and compassion that left Nondas, who passed away January 21, with a "second family" of former team members ... ones who learned from Nondas what it meant to be a stellar nurse, or a valued team member, or simply a compassionate human being.
Nondas more than deserved all the accolades she received over the years, Marie said, especially one that meant so much to her: WesleyLife's Outstanding Service Award in 2013, commemorated by a plaque that hangs in her honor at Wesley Acres. Marie will never forget the professional accomplishments that placed Nondas in a league of her own.
But when Marie thinks of Nondas, she doesn't think of all that, at least not right away.
"Really," she said, "I just miss my friend."
Nondas and Marie met at Wesley Acres in 1976. Marie was filling in for an administrative assistant who was on vacation; Nondas, whom she hadn't yet met, surprised her the day before Christmas with a small gift. "It was a little bluebird of happiness," Marie recalled. "That was so indicative of the kind of person she was, and the happiness she shared."
Marie said Nondas possessed the rare ability to determine instinctively whether a potential team member would be a good fit for the health center at Wesley Acres, so the people she hired tended to stay for quite a while. Once a person was part of the team, Marie said, he or she was mentored, guided, and maybe even mothered a little by Nondas.
"Maybe it's because her children were boys, but she treated some of the younger women like the daughters she never had; she wanted them to reach for the stars and take advantage of all the career paths that were available to them," Marie said.
"People wanted to meet her high expectations because she let them know how much she genuinely cared about them. Once you were part of her team, she would do all she could for you, no matter what."
Nondas's caring heart extended to her residents, also, Marie said.
"The story I love to tell about Nondas is: There was a patient in the health center who told Nondas she was so upset because she wouldn't be able to join her son and his family at their home for Christmas," Marie recalled. "Nondas looked at her chart and said, 'Well, of course you can go. What's stopping you?' The woman responded that her medication was scheduled for 6 o'clock every morning, so she needed to be in her room at Wesley Acres to receive it.
"Nondas said, 'You make your plans to go. I'll bring the medication to you.' And Christmas morning, before 6 o'clock, there was Nondas, driving to the son's house to give the patient her medication."
Other former team members remember Nondas similarly. Rob Kretzinger, CEO of WesleyLife, said the former DON will always hold a special place in his heart.
"Nondas was instrumental in shaping the focus on excellence that exists at Wesley Acres," he said. "A strong advocate for the nursing profession, and most certainly for Wesley Acres, she also shared a love for the Iowa State Cyclones, which made her even more special in my eyes!"
Rob said Nondas laid the foundation for service excellence, going above and beyond as the type of leader who set high standards, but loved people greatly.
"Her caring and compassionate approach to the work made it so people strove to do better, and they respected her so much they didn’t want to let her down," he said.
Janet Simpson, Regional Vice President of Network Operations for WesleyLife, recalls Nondas's dedication to her team members.
"One of the reasons Nondas was recognized in 2013 was that she started a scholarship program for nurses, making the first contribution to it," Janet said. "She believed strongly in helping people reach their full potential -- and she also believed that nursing was truly a calling."
By the time Wesley Acres' current Executive Director, Damon Buskohl, began his tenure with the community, Nondas was there as a resident. She quickly made her presence known and offered assistance.
"Her sense of ownership in our health center was still so strong," Damon said. "She was our biggest cheerleader and wanted regular updates. She always gave me 'tips,' and the one I'll remember is: 'Keep your chin up and have faith, as your heart is in the right place.'
"She was just such a strong supporter of Wesley Acres and the team, and she took advantage of all of the fun there is to be had here. We'll all miss Nondas, but we're privileged that she was such a big part of this community, and that her love for Wesley Acres never really stopped."