Frankford and Wissinoming are going to miss Phyllis and Wayne Clapier — not just socially but spiritually and physically.
For the last 40 years, the Clapiers have been looking after their community and its inhabitants with unmatched expertise and devotion — Phyllis as a nurse at Aria Health’s Frankford Campus and Wayne as pastor of Wissinoming Bible Fellowship Church.
Now, they are finally embarking on a new, modestly self-indulgent stage of life as a well-deserved respite from decades of self-sacrifice.
“My husband is a minister, and the reason we lived here is because we wanted to live with the people of the area,” said Phyllis Clapier, who retired last month from her job as nursing supervisor at the former Frankford Hospital, a longtime landmark in the lower Northeast.
Wayne Clapier will soon retire as leader of his church, leaving the congregation to his young associate pastor, Justin Hunter.
After that, there’s little telling where the Clapiers will end up.
“We are going for an adventure — at least for a year,” Phyllis Clapier said. “We’re going to drive across country for at least a year.”
Their initial destination will be Ellensburg, Wash., about 100 miles outside of Seattle, where their daughter and son-in-law live.
But no matter how far they travel, Phyllis Clapier will always remember with fondness her experiences at Aria and its people.
Now 64, she was born in Kensington and raised in Mayfair. After attending Abraham Lincoln High School, she entered nursing school at the old Presbyterian Hospital in University City at age 17 and graduated when she was 20.
After a year on the nursing staff at Presbyterian, she landed a job at Frankford to be close to her husband and growing family.
“We got married and lived in Frankford, one block away (from the hospital), for ten years,” she said. “Then we moved to Wissinoming, eight blocks from the hospital, where we’ve lived for thirty years.”
When Phyllis began her career, she earned $3.03 an hour plus a 35-cent differential for working the night shift. She worked nights often so that the couple wouldn’t have to find day care for their three young children.
They rented their first apartment for $85 a month, including utilities.
The couple later had a fourth child.
Nowadays, nurses generally wear colorful scrubs while on duty. But back then, starched white Nurse Ratched-style bibs and aprons were the standard, along with those rigid pointed caps that were unique to each nursing school.
The work was a lot different then, too.
“I just remember that the patients were not as old and not as sick, generally,” Clapier said. “We had a lot less patients, and a lot less paperwork was required.”
Those dynamics allowed nurses to develop closer personal relationships with patients.
“I miss spending that much time with patients,” Clapier said. “A lot of bedside time has been cut into. That’s (happening) all over.”
Clapier didn’t start her career with the expressed intention of becoming a supervisor one day, but it happened anyway. Her reliability, dedication, willingness to learn and interpersonal skills made her a natural choice for leadership roles.
“I’ve worked in just about every department in the hospital,” she said.
At one point, the hospital transferred her to its newer Torresdale Campus. After a while there, Clapier asked to return to the Frankford Campus to be closer to home.
“I called the supervisor down here and asked if they had any openings,” she said.
The assistant night-supervisor position was available. She took the job.
Two years later, in 1989, a drunken driver killed Clapier’s daughter. The grief-stricken mother’s co-workers were invaluable in helping her through the time of tragedy.
“The staff gave me a collective hug,” she said metaphorically.
Among their many skills, nurses must learn to become experts at coping with death and sadness.
“It’s very emotionally demanding,” Clapier said of her profession.
“I drive into work at night, and I see the people in the (neighborhood), and I say a prayer for them. There’s never enough time, love or money (to help them).”
The view inside the hospital can be equally as disheartening.
“We’re not a (certified) trauma center, but our ER does trauma so well. I’ve seen them save countless lives — people who’ve been shot and stabbed,” Clapier said.
Other departments in the hospital present different sets of challenges. A hospital is the last place that many older patients want to be, often for fear that they may die there. Most would rather spend their final days at home.
“The frail elderly are a challenge, moving them from a comfortable setting to another setting,” she explained. “We do everything we can to make them feel safe and secure. It’s not unusual to have one-on-one supervision.”
Clapier’s days of that kind of patient interaction basically ended when she became the full-time nursing supervisor in 1997.
“I’m managing people more than patients. I care about the nurses so much, and I care about patients, so if I take care of (the nurses), they’ll take care of patients,” Clapier said.
Even as a boss, the work remained hard. In conjunction with an employee-wellness initiative, Clapier began wearing a pedometer while making her rounds. She ended up walking about five miles per night.
In her time at the hospital, she has seen many changes in the nursing staff. Nowadays, it’s more diverse than ever in a cultural sense, with nurses hailing from many parts of the world, including Eastern Europe, India, the Far East and South America. The diversity reflects the community.
“We were always multicultural, but that has expanded tremendously,” she said. “We always have a translator available. We have to embrace cultures.”
In honor of her retirement, a few of the nurses compiled a colorful scrapbook for her with dozens of photos and heartfelt notes.
“I feel I’ll really miss the newer ones because I haven’t had as much time with them,” Clapier said.
She remains supremely confident that they will continue the noble work without her.
“Nursing is still one of the most trusted professions in the U.S. in all of the polls that you see, and I’m very proud of that,” Clapier said. ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org