Gene grew up in Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., living by a river where she and her sister, Joan, and friends swam in the summer and ice skated in winter. She always remembered seeing goldfish swimming below the ice, having escaped from a hatchery upstream. The family often camped on Delaware beaches. A highlight of her childhood was a camping trip in far north Canada, two portages away from civilization.
After graduating from high school in Ridgewood, N.J., Gene attended and graduated from Columbia Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing in New York City. In 1946, she married Robert McGovern, a medical student. While completing his internship in Philadelphia, residency in New York and his service in the Air Force at Edwards Air Force Base in California, they gave birth to three children.
Gene and Bob then came up with a plan to practice pediatrics on Long Island, N.Y., and in rural Haiti along with two other pediatricians. The three doctors took turns working at the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Deschapelles, Haiti, a year at a time. In total, Bob and Gene spent five years in Haiti, dealing with the serious medical problems of a desperately needy population. The McGovern children were home-schooled by Gene, causing her to joke she had attended fourth grade four times.
In her 40s, Gene attended Seton Hall University and New Jersey College of Medicine, earning a master’s degree in pediatric primary care and qualifying as one of the first nationally certified pediatric nurse practitioners. Certified in what was then a new nursing specialty, Gene took her skills to the hospital in Haiti, providing care for many children.
Gene taught as an associate professor in the graduate school of nursing at Stony Brook University, N.Y., before moving to Dallas, Texas, in 1980. After divorcing in 1990, she continued to work as a pediatric nurse practitioner in the Newborn Nursery at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, where 15,000 babies were born yearly. Always energetic and enthusiastic, Gene didn’t retire until she was 76. When asked why she still worked, she said, “Because I enjoy doing it.”
Gene fell in love with the Palouse, the lifestyle and the people of the area during multiple visits with her daughter Susan McGovern, a nurse at Gritman Medical Center. She decided to move to Troy in 2004. Gene often said how grateful she was for the many interesting and kind people in her life. In addition to their friendship, Gene also loved nature, chocolate, clouds, tai chi and her family.
Among her many interests here, Gene was active with the Huckleberry Red Hatters, the League of Women Voters, Master Gardeners, Backyard Harvest, Troy senior dinners, St. Marks Episcopal Church, a local food bank and PEO. Her pediatric nurse practitioner skills were well utilized as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for Children in Dallas, and many years in Lewiston. Gene made her opinions known regularly to elected representatives at all levels of government. Social justice and the environment were major concerns. For six years, she could often be found enjoying cardiac rehab at Gritman before eating lunch in the cafeteria.
Her son, Timothy, died in 1970. Gene is survived by her daughters, Susan McGovern and Karen Schneebaum (and her husband, Steven Schneebaum); two granddaughters, Megan Schneebaum (and her husband, Jason Rosenberg) and Rachel Oelslager; and four great-grandchildren, Felix and Luna Rosenberg, and Nathan and Sara Gene Oelslager. Her sister, Joan Del Vecchio, and brother-in-law, Edward Del Vecchio, of Charlotte, N.C,, also survive her.
A memorial service will be held 11 a.m. Jan. 16, 2016, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church with reception to follow. Instead of flowers, Gene requested contributions to Hôpital Albert Schweitzer of Deschapelles, Haiti. Please send contributions to Hôpital Albert Schweitzer, 2840 Liberty Avenue, Suite 201, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or through its website, HAShaiti.org.