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National Nurse's Day - May 6th

On this National Nurse's Day, I would like to express my appreciation to all my friends and family who are in the nursing profession. Not just today but everyday (this coming from a woman who gets nauseous at the mere mention of needles). One of the most beloved women in my life was also a nurse.

Josephine Purpura in nurses uniform
Josephine Purpura

Josephine Lucy Purpura was born on July 9, 1926 to Italian immigrants, Vito 'Charlie' Purpura and Rosaria Maria 'Mary' Spagnolia in Cleveland, Ohio. She was the middle child of three, her older sister Marianne Barbara and younger brother Robert Phillip. It is my supposition that she was named after her uncle Joseph Purpura and her aunt Lucia 'Lucy' Spagnolia.

Her life was impacted by many events, some which I am still uncovering nearly 90 years later. One such event happened on February 28, 1929 when Josephine (Jo) was a mere 2 1/2 years old. On that fateful evening, at the home and grocery store of Patrizio Spagnoli, her grandfather, a gas explosion and fire took the life of then 21 year old Lucy Spagnolia and seriously injured her sister Theresa, age 9 and their niece Marianne, age 4. The news reports at the time varied (much like today) got many of the names incorrect and the details aren't quite clear, but it appears Ulbaldo, a brother of Lucia and Theresa, age 12, Josephine (listed in the papers as Jean), age 2, and three other neighborhood children were hurt in the blast.

One Dead, 7 Injured In Explosion Combination Grocery Store And Home Destroyed By Violent Blast
Newspaper headline Portsmouth (Ohio) Daily Times, 28 February 1929

Lucy was minding the store and possibly all the younger children because her father Patrizio had been hospitalized after being injured in a traffic accident in December 1928, just 11 days after his wife Balbina 'Barbara', of 29 years, died of pneumonia (complicated by influenza) and eight days after her funeral.

According to her senior yearbook, Jo was the secretary of the Penguin Players, a drama club; scribe of the Thespian Honor Society; Hall Guard 1 & 2 (think hall monitor); Operetta (1-4); Girl Reserves (1-3) and president in 4; Chorus (1-4), and last but not least in the Senior Play. She was remembered in her yearbook as a 'swell friend,' the 'best thespian,' a 'fine friend,' and a 'future teacher.' She regrettably did not leave anything behind in the Class Will of 1944 of Charles F. Brush High School in South Euclid, Ohio.

I can't help but wonder if the early events in her life, her father's expectation that his children would become professionals, or her older sister's decision to become a nurse led Josephine on the path to becoming a nurse herself. She attended Flora Stone Mather College, and received her nursing degree from St. Luke's Hospital School of Nursing.

Josephine wasn't the best student in college ~ in 1947, her parents received a letter of warning that advised she must "work harder and strive to meet the standards of this School." In 1945, as a freshman, Jo received 3 Cs, 3 Ds, and 1 F (thankfully Physical Education didn't provide any credit hours or it could have been much worse). She had gotten a warning in March of 1946, rather a 'strong warning' that she was required to get a better than C average in June. Yet somehow, she persevered.

There are so many stories I have collected of her youth, such as the time her father sheared off her hair because she was chewing gum and it got stuck, so he thought he'd make this a lesson she wouldn't forget by making her look like a boy (trust me it made an impression as she told me that story herself). Or the day she was featured in the local newspaper while attending college, wearing jeans (gasp! 😲) or the fact that she thought that her maternal grandmother was much nicer than her paternal grandmother (who lived with them for a time). But where her story merges into mine was in 1950.

At the age of 23 she married Arthur Eugene Huddleson on August 5, 1950 in St. Francis de Sales Church, in Parma, Ohio.

From left to right, Elmer Tenley Huddleson, Dorothy (Delong) Huddleson, Arthur Eugene Huddleson, Josephine (Purpura) Huddleson, Mary (Spagnolia) Purpura, and Vito Purpura
Wedding Photo 5 August 1950

She and Arthur 'Art' would later have six children total, Deborah Lou, Arthur Christopher, Robert Kevin, Norman Phillip, Paul Gregory, and Rosemary. Deborah 'Debbie', Arthur 'Bo', and Robert 'Bob', would all be born in the Cleveland area before the family moved west to the Denver area in the 1950s, where the last three children were born. Art was a salesman for Woehrmyer Printing Company and Josephine was a nurse in emergency at St. Luke's or Porter Hospital (we're not sure which 🤷‍♀️). They lived in Denver, Englewood, and Littleton ( not necessarily in that order, Uncle Bob).

As a mother of three, she lost her own mother, Mary, in 1956 to ovarian cancer, when she was only 52 years old. In January 1967, Jo and Art lost their second daughter Rosemary to SIDS. Just 5 short months later, the family lost Arthur to a cerebral aneurysm. She was now the single mother of 5, head of household, and by 1969 the Director of Nurses at Christopher House Nursing Home in Wheat Ridge, Colorado.

When I met her, or more accurately, when she met me 👶...I was her first grandchild, the daughter of her eldest child. She fostered a love of the theatre, music, and art in me and promised me that I could be anything I wanted to be. She enriched my life by showing me that women could be independent and strong, powerful and empathetic, and above all loving and kind. She was strikingly beautiful and yet had a lovely sense of humor.

Josephine Huddleson with her granddaughters Alicia and Sara 1978
Grandma H with two of her granddaughters

She is one who encouraged my love of history and the past. I like to think that she would be amazed at all the information I have found on our family and our history during the past 27 years since she's been gone. She died much too young at the age of 66 from a rare type of head and neck cancer that spread to her brain. I was only 18. Far too young to lose someone that important and yet so very privileged to have had her in my life that long.

When I think of nurses or anyone in the nursing profession, I am always reminded of my beloved Grandma 💖 and the family she loved. Take care my friends.

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