Nursing scholarship honors mom who helped dad and others

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Harriet’s daughter has established a scholarship in her name, recognizing all the success she has had.

mié, nov 30, 2011

Harriett Nelms grew up in the coal country of eastern Pennsylvania and southwestern Ohio.

Encouraged by her father, who made sure all his kids went to college, she studied at Ohio State University in the 1940s and graduated with a degree in microbiology. She was one of only a few females in those days to graduate from Ohio State.

That’s where Harriett met her husband, Sidney Steele, a doctoral student who served as the teaching assistant in one of her chemistry classes. They married in 1944 and lived in Louisville, Ky., where he worked for the Girdler Chemical Co. until the end of WWII. He then got a job teaching chemistry at Eastern Illinois State Normal School in Charleston, Ill., and they lived there the rest of their lives.

Their daughter, Janet Steele, is a professor of biology at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. She recently established the Harriett J. Steele Nursing Scholarship at UNK. Her $25,000 gift will honor her mother and the many accomplishments she made throughout her life.

Janet Steele said her father had established a scholarship in his own name at Eastern Illinois University and that inspired her to create a scholarship in her mother’s name. 

“I always felt my mother’s name should have been included on the scholarship because she was important to his success as a university professor,” she said. “When I was able to do so, I decided to establish a separate scholarship in her name at UNK.”

She especially hopes the scholarship helps students who might not otherwise be able to afford college.

“One factor that sets students up for failure in college is not having enough time to devote to their studies due to outside responsibilities, including work,” Steele said. “Perhaps the scholarship will allow students to have more success in the classroom by having to work fewer hours per week at a job in order to pay their tuition.”

Harriett was not a nurse. But her mother and sisters were.

When her children were older, Harriett worked as a laboratory assistant in the chemistry department for Eastern Illinois University. She and Sidney retired in 1986. They enjoyed traveling locally and abroad for many years.

Janet Steele said education was important to her parents, and they encouraged others, regardless of age, to continue their education. 

UNK’s Health Sciences Program and the College of Natural and Social Sciences will award the scholarships. Recipients must have successfully completed a minimum of 18 credit hours, including a biology or chemistry course.

Preference will be given to non-traditional students who express financial need and a desire to pursue a career in nursing.

To learn how you can set up a fund at UNK to honor a loved one, contact the foundation’s Anne McConkey at 308-698-5282. If you would like to learn more about UNK’s campaign goals, contact Lucas Dart at 308-698-5270.

Jessica Sorensen, a public relations intern at the University of Nebraska Foundation, wrote this story. Sorensen is a senior in the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. She has studied four years of Spanish and volunteers at the Animal Humane Society.

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