Once a nurse, always a nurse

Published on: January 23, 2013

Doris Ragland. Photo Penny Fletcher

Doris Ragland. Photo Penny Fletcher


SUN CITY CENTER — Those who work with Doris Ragland say she’s a bundle of energy and never runs out of ideas.

Ragland has worked with Sun City Center Samaritan Services since moving to Florida from Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1973.

A psychiatric nurse both in the Army and in civilian life, Ragland has never lost her compassion for helping others.

“She’s constantly trying to improve the lot of senior citizens who have nowhere else to turn,” said Sue Miller, office manager for Samaritan Services, a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization, for 12 years. “She remembers everything the rest of us have forgotten. She rolls off names and dates from years ago like they were yesterday.”

Miller describes Ragland as compassionate and caring, with an unflappable exterior and a soft heart hidden behind a no-nonsense demeanor.

“Probably because of the military career she shared with her husband, she has the ability to stand back and assess things objectively before addressing them,” Miller added.

Delores Berens agreed.

Berens, president of the Alzheimer’s Respite Group and a board director of Samaritan Services, has worked beside Ragland for 15 years.

“It’s time Doris was recognized for the work she has done from her heart. Everything she does comes from her heart,” Berens said. “She’s a wonderful humanitarian and she knows her expertise, being a nurse and being involved in assisted living facilities for so many years.”

Berens continued, saying that whenever someone needs help or wants someone to talk something out with, or if local clubs and organizations need someone to talk to them about Samaritan Services, Ragland makes herself available.

“She is a loyal friend and a wonderful organizer. Without her a lot of things would go by the wayside and many people would not get help. She makes it easy for us — the volunteers — to do our jobs,” Berens continued.

Ragland’s path to the Tampa Bay area took many turns.

She grew up the baby of three children in the small rural “one-stop-light” town of Strausburg, Ohio, and after getting her nursing degree at Youngstown Nursing School, she became a psychiatric nurse in the Army in 1942, during World War II.

There she married Maurice Healey, a dental surgeon in the Army Air Force, which later split from “Army” Air Force and was renamed.

The couple was not permitted to be married and both in service at that time, so Ragland quit the service and became a Civil servant.  

She still laughs at how much more this cost the government.

“If I’d been allowed to stay in the military, I’d have received a much smaller check than through Civil Service, but those were the rules then,” she said in an interview Jan. 17.

The couple lived in Weisbaden, Germany and in London. Together, they lived the military/Civil Service lifestyle for 30 years and had two children.

Their daughter is now administrator of a preschool in Kentucky and their son a dentist in Bradenton.

But their working lives didn’t stop after the service. Once retired from active duty, the couple moved to Indianapolis where Ragland was director of nursing for a 250-bed nursing home and her husband taught in a dental school.

“This is what we did until we moved to Sun City Center — supposedly to retire — in 1973,” she said.

But shortly after they moved, the town’s only doctor at that time, J. Earl Wentzell, heard there was a nurse who had credentials in Ohio, Indiana, and Florida living nearby. He had just lost his nurse who’d had gall bladder surgery.

“He called me out of the blue,” she said. “And I went back to work.”

She began to see the problems other seniors had. Alzheimer’s disease disturbed her so she joined forces with Samaritan Services of Sun City Center Inc., and formed an Alzheimer’s Support Group in 1975.

Woman of the Year for both the Sun City Center Chamber of Commerce and the local chapter of the American Association of University Women in the mid-1990s, Ragland worked tirelessly to add programs and services to Samaritan Services.

What started with one donated car is now a fleet of eight: six cars that take residents who need medical transportation to Tampa, Bradenton and Brandon and two that drive residents who no longer drive around town from U.S. 301 to Sun Point in Ruskin for any reason what-so-ever, including shopping and beauty appointments. 

“We’ve come a long way,” Ragland said.

While volunteering at Samaritan Services, she continued to work for Dr. Wentzell.

“I could see so many unmet needs working there. People who did not know what to do, where to turn.”

So Ragland was in on the expansion of Samaritan Services.

When Sam Cook Painting became a larger business and moved to Ruskin, she helped clean up the paint store and make it an office.

“I was told at the time we only had enough money to rent it for six months. They said what are we going to do? And I said, keep working our butts off and pray,” she said.

Somehow, they did it, and in 2012 celebrated their 28th anniversary.

Ragland was working 7-to-7 between Dr. Wentzell’s and Samaritan Services and driving a Security Patrol car from midnight to 3 a.m. in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

“In the mid 1980s Dr. Wentzell retired and I started coming in to Samaritan full time,” she said.

That job, of course, is volunteer.

By then, Maurice had died, and for awhile, she was single.

Doris Healey married Mack Ragland, who also volunteered at Samaritan Services and other places, in 1996.

He died in 2002 and she continued to work, always looking for unmet needs and trying to fill them.

Eight years ago South Bay Hospital had to stop doing the Meals on Wheels program by itself and Samaritan Services and the Sun City Center Woman’s Club jumped in to fill the gap.

“Now it is a three-pronged effort,” Ragland explained. The hospital supplies the food with a volunteer from Samaritan Services watching, sorting and routing, and woman’s club volunteers handling the food.

She also works a lot with SHINE, which is a program that helps senior citizens who have problems with Medicare or Medicaid.

“We are a catch-all here (at Samaritan). People who have nowhere to turn come to us.”

Many times, it is a family member, perhaps in another state, that asks for help for a relative — usually a parent who has become frail or disabled —  in Sun City Center.

Ragland just had her 92nd birthday.

It hasn’t slowed her down.

When asked her future plans, retirement was not among them.

“When I was eight or nine years old and was confirmed, the priest asked me what I wanted to do in life,” she said. “I told him I wanted to bug people. That was the only way I knew at that age to explain I wanted to help people. Be around people. Do things for people. You know how kids are.”

Samaritan Services is located at 916 N. Pebble Beach Blvd., which is at the extreme east end of the strip center at the back of the Sun City Center Plaza, just north of the travel agency on the corner of the building. The telephone number is (813) 634-9283.