Irene Engel joined UConn Health Center in its infancy, working as a nurse in the surgical unit. The institution was nine months old, operating out of McCook Hospital in Hartford until space on the Farmington campus was available.
Her career took her through virtually every aspect of the Health Center’s operations. She moved from nursing on the 3-11 pm shift to associate director of nursing with responsibility for setting up the new hospital’s specialty units, e.g., intensive care and neonatal units. When her husband died (he was 44, she was 42), Engel’s busy schedule expanded to include school for a business degree, which she felt would better allow her to support her son. Upon graduation, she resigned from nursing and joined the School of Medicine to help organize the faculty practice.
Next step was a job with the Department of Surgery as Peter Deckers was transitioning into his new appointment as chairman of the department. Several years later, she became assistant dean for space planning and programs for the School of Medicine, a position she held until her retirement 17 years ago.
“People used to joke that I had a different job every six months,” says Engel, whose retirement in 1995 was in name only. A member of the Health Center Auxiliary since 1969, Engel was active in fundraising for the Auxiliary’s scholarships for medical and dental students, and its many programs to support patients. She also helped lead the effort to raise $1.5 million to endow the Auxiliary’s Joseph M. Healey Jr. Memorial Chair in Medical Humanities and Bioethics. “I think we are the only hospital auxiliary in the country that has endowed a chair,” says Engel. She became facilitator of the Auxiliary four years ago and helped lead efforts to establish free long-term accommodations for parents of newborns treated in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care and the child safety seat identification system that provides vital health information about children at the scene of an accident when the driver is unresponsive.
After more than a half century of supporting the Health Center one way or another, Engel recently made a planned gift of $50,000 to the organization. “I always wanted to honor my husband,” says Engel. Her pledge, which is payable out of her estate, will support the Health Center’s cancer treatment programs. “I like the idea of having something here named after my husband and me,” says Engel, who says she loved being part of a teaching hospital. “I was lucky to join in the early years and help build the Health Center into a great academic health center.”
Engel doesn’t see herself taking it easy any time soon. She is helping the Auxiliary raise money to provide a fund “that can help cancer patients who find themselves making a choice between groceries and pills.” And she is hoping to get some of the civic groups in her town actively involved in supporting the Health Center. “I like to keep busy,” says Engel.