Helen Zebarth, RN, (shown above, at left, in blue) has retired after 43 years with Shenandoah University. During her tenure, Zebarth served as an associate professor in the Eleanor Wade Custer School of Nursing from 1979-2004, directed the university’s Wilkins Wellness Center from 1987-2008, and was an adjunct professor of nursing from 2004 through this year.
While at Shenandoah, she also founded Blue Ridge Hospice, which began operations in 1981 in Winchester, and now provides end-of-life care to people in the city of Winchester and Frederick, Clarke, Warren, Shenandoah, northern Fauquier, and western Loudoun counties.
A South Dakota native who became a nurse because a neighbor often took her to work with her to show her what the job entailed, Zebarth came to Shenandoah after living in Europe, which is where she connected with hospice, as well. “I felt compelled to start hospice after visiting a hospice in England and seeing how well the patients were cared for over there,” she said.
Shenandoah reached out to her to teach when her family returned to the United States, and she was immediately drawn to Shenandoah’s culture. “It seemed more like my alma mater, South Dakota State College, at the time,” she said.
Her Midwestern roots also inspired her industrious spirit. Zebarth said her parents were always busy and involved in their community, doing a number of things at once, so it just seemed natural for her to do the same, even if that meant juggling university and hospice responsibilities with rich home life, which includes a deep devotion to her faith.
Zebarth, who prays four times a day, has been a Faith Community Nurse at Christ Episcopal Church in Winchester for 22 years, and taught classes that included not only psychiatric nursing and health across the lifespan, but also spirituality in patient care and living with grief and death. She co-led the Nurses Christian Fellowship student organization (a ministry of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship) and led the Blessing of the Hands ceremony every semester.
Additionally, she organized the chartering ceremony for the Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Honor Society, Rho Pi chapter at Shenandoah in 2002, and during her time leading the wellness center, she wrote a weekly column in Shenandoah’s newspaper addressing mental and physical health needs of students.
She said she loved both teaching and running the wellness center. “When I was director of the wellness center as well as teaching, I took care of many of the athletes. It wasn’t until football came that they hired athletic trainers. My husband and I traveled with the teams and we still are very involved with basketball, football, and baseball.”
Her decades of caring for not only Shenandoah’s community, but the community at large, was recognized this year when she received the SU Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award at the nursing school’s pinning and hooding ceremony. The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award recognizes “people of noble character” who “ennoble and beautify living” and “invest themselves in the well being of others.” Those chosen for this award have distinguished themselves in service to others. The “spirit of Shenandoah University” is seen within the award recipient’s life.
Now, as her time at Shenandoah has come to a close, Zebarth said she believes that she brought a perspective from her upbringing, to be accepting of all people, to Shenandoah, which, in return, gave her love “in so many ways.”
Her retirement will be far from inactive. Zebarth said she plans to continue with Blue Ridge Hospice, Faith Community Nursing, and to debrief fire and rescue personnel after serious incidents (Critical Incident Stress Management).
It may sound like a lot to do in retirement, but that’s just Helen Zebarth’s way. Shenandoah thanks her for all her service, which has helped make the university what it is today.