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Benoliel honored for hall-of-fame career

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ISSAQUAH - Early in her nursing career Jeanne Benoliel became involved in the burgeoning field of study regarding the issue of dealing with death and dying.

Today the topic remains difficult for many to discuss, but for her strides in bringing the study of the subject to the medical field, Benoliel was inducted into Washington State Nurses Association Hall of Fame earlier this month.

"I'm comfortable talking to anybody about any tragic situation," said Benoliel, a former longtime Fall City resident.

Benoliel's path to the hall of fame began during the 1930s following graduation from San Diego High School in California. It was a period in time when many women didn't attend college, and those who did were limited in their choices of career fields, Benoliel said.

"There weren't many things that women did in those days. They either became a teacher or a nurse," said Benoliel. "It was a different world."

After studying prenursing at San Diego State College, Benoliel graduated from St. Luke's Hospital School of Nursing in San Francisco. Shortly after graduation she entered the U.S. Army Nurse Corp. and spent 22 months in the South Pacific.

Money from the G.I. Bill lead to a bachelor's degree from Oregon State University, which she attended with a friend from the army. A master's degree from the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) would follow.

After graduation from UCLA in 1955, Benoliel joined the faculty and become involved in experimental research regarding physiology and statistics.

About two years later the loss of her sister and father would contribute to her pursuit in the then fairly new field of study regarding dealing with mortality.

"In those days [1960] nobody talked about it," said Benoliel. "Nobody talked about anything."

Through contacts made in her studies at UCLA, Benoliel would eventually find herself in San Francisco studying the issue.

"In those days the field was just opening up," said Benoliel.

She would eventually earn a doctorate from the University of California-San Francisco.

Not only was her career blossoming in San Francisco, but her love life would take a turn, too. During her Bay Area stay she met Bob Benoliel.

The couple would eventually marry and move to Fall City, Bob's hometown, and Jeanne would take a faculty job at the University of Washington (UW).

While at the UW, Benoliel would earn many accolades and contribute to the field of study.

In 1981 she developed a graduate program in "oncology transition services." She worked with local, national and international groups in thanatology (the study of death and dying) and care of the dying to introduce hospice models. Benoliel was the first registered nurse to be president of the International Work Group On Death, Dying and Bereavement, and helped create a number of international thanatology organizations.

Benoliel, who moved out of Fall City in 2002 following the 1999 death of Bob, said there's nothing about her career that she would change. In fact, one of the aspects about life she learned while in nursing is that people create their futures through actions, and that if you had it to do over again, you'd likely choose the same path.

"The only thing for certain is right now, you can't be sure about the future," said Benoliel.

What people might be surprised to hear, said Benoliel, is that the nursing field is not dominated by the brooding, sullen personality. In fact, she added, it's the opposite.

"I have met a lot of interesting people while working in this field," said Benoliel. "It's kind of like if you know how to cry well, you know how to laugh well."

Travis Peterson can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at travis.peterson@valleyrecord.com.

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