Mystical Avalon reminds us of the medieval town of Glastonbury, 30 miles south of Bristol in the UK. Connecticut owns a Glastonbury as well, today a yuppie historic homes suburb of Hartford. But when Eileen (nee Sweetland) Leinweber grew up there it was a typical picturesque New England town just shy of 15,000, where life slowly spiraled out from the center of town. She recalls with nostalgia, “We walked everywhere we went.”
“And strawberries, strawberries… I planted ‘em, weeded ‘em, picked ‘em and took them to market. My folks raised six kids and ten acres of strawberries. The berries were a sideline. We kids filled in the rest of their lives.” One of her brothers still lives in the old homestead, one in a suburb of Boston, one in Albuquerque. Her two sisters live in rural Connecticut. There are 10 grandchildren, and the family has made high school graduations a reason to come together as often as they can, and for Eileen to visit back East.
After high school, a full-tuition scholarship brought Eileen to John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, a step that launched her career in nursing and introduced her to lifelong friends who have stayed close through the years. “I graduated with 82 classmates,” she recalls with pride. Nursing students in those days stayed in the same dorm – today students of every discipline are interspersed in all residence halls. We bonded from the beginning. We just had our 40-year reunion and 40 people were there. Hopkins, 1000-bed teaching and research hospital were rated No. 1 in the country and I was fortunate to grow up in that professional environment.
After graduating, Eileen went home to Hartford Hospital and worked as an emergency room staff nurse for a short time but then returned to Hopkins, again in the ER. “It was a big city trauma and I loved it,” she remembers. Eileen went on to become a head nurse in the Hopkins OR. She has never worked on a traditional nursing unit, like medical or surgical. Some of her nursing buddies went into the Army as civilian nurses during the Vietnam era, and one year she flew to Germany to meet up and travel with them.
She recalls, “We traveled to Italy and other places, and when we found out the Tijuana Brass was going to entertain the troops in Augsburg, I really wanted to hear them. It was a free concert, but you had to go with someone from the Army. They set me up with this ‘Tom’ fellow, a blind date. I enjoyed the music and, happily as it turned out, his company. We went to Oktoberfest the day before leaving from Munich for the States, and the next morning Tom drove me to the airport. We dated for three years between Baltimore and Oshkosh…and that’s how I got to Oshkosh.
Eileen earned her baccalaureate of science in nursing degree (summa cum laude) and her master of science in nursing with an emphasis in administration at UW Oshkosh. She says, “It seems I have been learning forever. LIR is a good match for me. I joined the finance committee and have generated some data for them. We are streamlining the process. Programming is excellent. People keep coming back for more. Science has the lowest interest…history and music the highest. I think some ‘Boomers’ will soon be joining our ranks, and they will bring in new ideas and have different tastes. They might enjoy sessions where there is more interaction. This is not a static enterprise.
LIR president, Noreen Johnson, says, “Eileen has keen insights, and helps clarify where discussion is going, as she did when we conducted a focus group with our Appleton members on programming. She will be very helpful as we continue to work to rein in our room costs and other expenditures.”
Eileen’s career in nursing included Director of Nursing at Bethel Home, Director of Surgical Services as St. Elizabeth Hospital, Appleton, and then at Affinity in Oshkosh and Appleton. Most recently she was a project manager hospital consultant in the areas of supply consumption and cost reduction opportunities. A good catch for LIR in this regard!
Tom her husband of 37 years, has retired from the postal service after 41 years. They have two children; Ross, a managing partner in a small trading firm, and Erin, in her third season as women’s soccer coach at UW Oshkosh. Eileen, a former high school intramural soccer player herself, — she’s from New England, after all – was a “soccer mom” long before it became a household term. They did youth soccer from the first grade on. Tom the coach, Eileen the team mom and nurse. They still follow the sport and recently hosted a pasta dinner for Erin’s soccer players this year before they hit the field. Her daughter, Erin, has high praise for her organizational skills. She says, “They are quite amazing…to the point, her grocery list is strictly organized. All her life she has been a great soccer mom for my brother and me. She still follows the sport with my soccer team.”
Eileen is a voracious reader, from bios to fiction, and particularly enjoys Nicholas Spark’s novels. She claims she reads 400 wpm and, like her father who had an incredible photographic memory, retains most of what she reads. “This was helpful,” she says, “when I had to read and absorb a lot of …like when I was consulting and I had to research so many trade journals and other resources…and remember.” One of Eileen’s administrative skills was helping hospitals find places in their system where they could save money. Her consulting work for a group purchasing organization for hospitals took her from North Carolina to St. Cloud to San Antonio to the Yale-New Haven system, many times away from home Monday through Thursday. Formally retired from consulting nationally only two years ago, she now works a couple of days a month. Eileen also does “scrapbooking,” a popular craft hobby in which she ties genealogy to digital photography, pulling together her family history.
What slowed Eileen down some was her January 2003 diagnosis of ovarian cancer. “At that devastating point in my life,” she tells us, “it seemed I had so much ‘unfinished business,’ so much yet to be done, so much life to be shared, especially with my children and the things they were about to enjoy. Too many loose ends to tuck in.” Due to her medical background, Eileen was perhaps more astute to symptoms than others might be, and she had surgery in Milwaukee just 10 days after the diagnosis. “Some cancers recur in 6 months, some in 24,” she explains, “and my oncologist and surgeon assured me that my CA-125 tumor marker has the lowest value they have ever tracked. However, ovarian cancer is labeled a chronic disease. There is always a cloud hanging. Once a gall bladder is out.. it’s out for good. Cancer is different. Of the four stages relative to the growth of ovarian cancer, I was fortunate to catch mine at stage two.” Eileen says confidently, “The unfinished things I was worried about, well, they’ve kind of fallen into place. Now I am enjoying grandchildren, my own children’s progress in life and many happy days with my husband. Each day is a gift. Now when something seems to go awry in my day I ask myself, ‘Is this important in the big picture?’ and the answer is usually ‘no.’ You gain a new perspective on life…when it is threatened.”
Eileen has put her computer skills and spreadsheet know-how to good use LIR. She has pie-charted our member demographics into discrete groups and came up with information that could have only been guessed at without this scientific method. Too complicated to describe here, it can be said that we have about 20 members in the 55-64 age bracket; the rest of us are evenly distributed in the 65-74 and 75-84 groupings. Her further studies into the workings of LIR bring her to the realization that although we are a nonprofit, we need to run this club more like a business, with fairly clear and discrete “chores” for the several standing committees. There are creative concerns, like programming, and then there are administrative concerns –how to pay for them. If anyone needs tips on organization, ask Eileen Leinweber. It’s a good bet, too, her closets and countertops are tidy! Eileen is in the throws of discarding a lot of her books, and things in her life that have diminished relevance. All of us get that inside call to cull, to simplify. She pages through obsolete journals, seminar notes, and lets them go quietly, piecemeal, over the months. “It’s less traumatic that way,” she muses, “and I now concentrate on what matters and what does not matter. On what I need and what I can let go. One day I hauled out four boxes of business books, and over the next weeks some 20 trash bags. Still, you sense you are throwing away part of your identity.” As a tip for those on the cusp of retiring, the only advice she has is to do what you love! Focus on what is best for you. Good advice for all of us.