Celebrating a nursing trailblazer

Flora Ponder was one of the first two African American students admitted to the University of Louisville School of Nursing in 1954.

Flora Ponder didn’t always plan to become a nurse. In fact, nursing was her second choice when she filled out a career interest form as a senior at Central High School. Upon seeing her first choice of “interior decorator,” her guidance counselor advised Flora to reconsider nursing as a more practical vocation. Flora chose to follow those prophetic words and built an amazing nursing career over the past 60-plus years. But the road wasn’t easy.

Flora was one of the first two African American students admitted to the University of Louisville School of Nursing in 1954, chosen in large part because of her excellent high school grades.

Married with two small children, Flora faced many obstacles, including a dispute between the

mayor and school officials over resident housing. Her fearless tenacity helped pave the way for other students of color to fulfill their dreams of a college education. When asked if she ever had second thoughts about going to nursing school, Flora calmly said, “I didn’t have any fears. I knew God was with me.” She graduated in 1957 and never looked back.

She continued to break down barriers and fight discrimination through many different nursing positions, from recovery room and intensive care unit head nurse at General Hospital, to serving as assistant director of education at Central State Hospital. She worked for the Louisville health department, was hired to establish the Park DuValle Community Health Center and helped develop what is now Louisville Emergency Medical Services. Her accomplishments also include creating health programs to combat lead poisoning, diabetes and sickle cell disease, many of which became regionally and nationally recognized for their success.

Flora shares her health expertise while serving as the health ministries coordinator at Westwood Presbyterian Church. With help from a few other church members, she organized sickle cell disease support groups, diabetes education, health fairs and caregiver programs.

Even in retirement, Flora continues to serve. Now age 89, she cares for older relatives and remains active at church. Flora summed up her life and career by simply saying,

“I just love people . . . and I have really been blessed.”


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