ANA Hall of Fame Inductee
Renowned expert in the care of older adults and the nursing management of long term care, Mary Opal Wolanin influenced the inclusion of gerontological content in nursing curricula. Committed to ongoing research in the field of gerontology, she funds an annual research award and mentors American and foreign graduate students.
Mary Opal Browne was born in Chrisney, Indiana, on November 1, 1910, to Earl Edwin and Florence (Abbott) Browne, she spent the first year of her life in Saskatchewan, Canada, where she developed diphtheria, which eventually left her completely deaf in one ear. In 1931, she received a diploma in nursing from the Kansas City General Hospital School of Nursing in Missouri and completed a course in psychiatric nursing at Cook County Hospital, Illinois. From 1941 to 1943, she served as second lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps in World War II, and while in the service was married to second lieutenant, H.J. Tiger Wolanin. Between 1944 and 1951, Wolanin held positions in Mississippi, Louisiana, Ohio, Arizona, and Nebraska, which included experiences in obstetrical nursing and the care of native Americans with tuberculosis. After completing a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Arizona in 1954, Wolanin again accompanied her husband on his various military assignments. Returning to Arizona in 1958, the Wolanins settled in Tucson where they remained for the next twenty-nine years. In the early 1960s, Wolanin joined the faculty of the University of Arizona School of Nursing where she also completed a master's degree in 1963.
In 1968, Wolanin was given a joint appointment with the newly established Regional Medical Program and began her study of nursing homes and long term care needs in Arizona. Through her sustained efforts, a graduate program in gerontological nursing, one of the first of its kind in this country, was established at the University of Arizona.
A valuable resource for educational programs in nursing as well as nursing home administration, Wolanin provided thirty consultations on gerontological nursing and presented more than twenty-five scholarly papers in the U.S. and abroad. Author of numerous published articles, books, and book chapters, she is the recipient of a great many honors and awards, including the Lifetime Achievement in Nursing Award from the National Gerontological Nursing Association, and fellowship in the Gerontological Society of America. Retired in 1987 as associate professor emeritus, she now resides with her husband of 53 years in San Antonio, Texas. Active in nursing for more that sixty years, Wolanin continues to affect the lives of the aged and, according to colleagues, "remains a guiding light in gerontological nursing."