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First school nurse bids farewell
Nurse Nancy 4 es
Nancy Rithmire talks with a student in the nurse's office recently at Chestatee Elementary School. Rithmire, who was Forsyth County's first school nurse, is retiring this month. - photo by Emily Saunders

When Nancy Rithmire started working in Forsyth County, she was the school system’s only nurse.

There’s now one in every school, and they all report to Rithmire, the health services facilitator.

“I feel like I’ve helped a child every day of my career,” she said. “I go home with a great feeling every day. Tired, but every day I come home knowing I helped children.”

After more than 30 years in the nursing profession, Rithmire is charting a new path as she retires this month.

“She’s going to be greatly missed,” said former Superintendent Paula Gault. “We were just fortunate to have her in Forsyth County as long as we did.”

She looks forward to taking a western Caribbean cruise in January to celebrate the first retirement vacation of a career that began in 1978.

Rithmire started as a school nurse in Florida, with stops in Alabama and Louisiana before coming to Georgia in 1993.

She served as a school nurse consultant for the Georgia Department of Education back when there were just 44 school nurses statewide.

A few years later, she noticed the Forsyth County school system was looking for its first nurse.

She was accepted and became the only nurse for 11 schools and more than 11,000 students.

“I quickly saw we had a great need because the secretaries were responsible for dispensing medications,” she said. “We were not alone though. That was the case in many, many school systems.”

Rithmire quickly had the secretaries at each school go through training to learn how to properly dispense the medicine and worked toward hiring a health assistant for each elementary school.

“She was instrumental in building the program,” Gault said. “It’s just grown so tremendously, to the point where I don’t know what the schools would do without them.”

Once Rithmire’s nursing staff was complete, she was able to focus on finding ways to meet health needs for students with hearing or vision problems, as well as more chronic illnesses like asthma and diabetes.

Technology advancements have made it easier to keep track of students with medical needs, and newer medications mean school nurses have to give fewer doses.

But Rithmire said there are more students who need medical assistance than 30 years ago. She also said children are "coming to school much more seriously ill.”

In the late 1970s, a ventilator-dependent child would have been in intensive care.

“Now, they may be in the classroom working alongside children with no health issues, but we’re caring for them,” she said. “We have to do our homework and find out what the child’s needs are.”

Over the years, Rithmire says she has met many special children and worked with a strong group of nurses. While she will miss the day-to-day contact, she plans to keep in touch and offer advice.

“I hope to remain friends with all the nurses and I hope they will continue to keep me involved,” she said. “I think that will help me if they do that to make that adjustment and that transition.”

Another aspect that will help her shift into retirement mode is no longer having to make the 100-mile trek to and from her home in Helen five days a week.

“But I do that because I know that there’s a need, and I feel blessed to be able to drive that distance and work in a system like Forsyth because they do understand the need for a child to be healthy to be able to learn and to succeed,” she said.

Rithmire plans to spend her newfound free time with her husband Hershell, her grown children and 2-year-old grandson.

She also plans to go to Mount Rushmore, kayak on the Chattahoochee and volunteer at her local clinic.

While her future plans call for travel and relaxation, Rithmire said she’s “proud to have been a school nurse sine 1978.”

“I have enjoyed the leadership and opportunities from Forsyth County Schools,” she said. “I have met the needs of many children throughout the years.”