“Eventually, they’re going to have to rethink that word ‘retire,’” says Juanita Hunter (EdD ’83, MS ’74, BS ’71).
The School of Nursing professor emerita, 87, is a case in point for redefining terms. It’s been 19 years since she retired from her teaching position at UB—“transitioned” is her preferred expression—and throughout that time she has worked as relentlessly as ever.
“Retirement is not leaving your passions behind. It’s just moving to other areas where you can use your talents,” says Hunter. For this educator and activist, those passions and talents revolve around health care, learning and community engagement. As a volunteer, she is active in her church and has served on the governing boards for Medaille College, Meals on Wheels for Western New York and the Grace Manor Nursing Home. A few years ago, she spearheaded a successful campaign to change the name of Buffalo Public School 74 to honor local educators Claude and Ouida Clapp, whom she calls her personal mentors. Now she is in the midst of developing an enrichment program for middle school girls there.
Hunter’s tenacity is deep-rooted. Early in her career, she worked as a staff nurse at Edward J. Meyer Memorial Hospital, now the Erie County Medical Center. Then, she says, the hospital primarily cared for disadvantaged people: the poor, the homeless, the addicted. “I was aware that there were some staff who didn’t want to take care of certain groups of people or certain individuals. I would challenge staff on my unit if I saw them not taking care of people appropriately,” she says. “I always felt that these patients deserved the same kind of care that anybody else received.”
That experience set in motion a lifelong theme for Hunter: the connection between nursing and human rights. “We’re taught to treat human beings equally. Remember, nursing evolved historically from the religious order,” she says. “The broader aspect in my career came when I became interested in community health, and all of the areas where nursing could be effective there—speaking up for these groups of people, encouraging better care for them.”
After working for many years as a public health nurse coordinator at Buffalo Veterans Medical Center, Hunter joined UB’s School of Nursing faculty in 1978. Health care for the homeless was a focal point of interest for her—she edited a textbook on the issue and helped to found the nursing school’s Center for the Homeless, which provided services to the homeless population in the Buffalo area. She chaired both the first New York State Nursing Association Committee on Human Rights and the American Nursing Association’s Commission on Human Rights, also earning the association’s Honorary Human Rights Award.
But Hunter is still not quite ready to sit on her laurels. After accepting the Community Leadership Award from the UB Alumni Association in May, she spent the summer helping to plan a nursing conference on mental health and teens that will take place in Buffalo this fall.
“Once you reach a certain stage in life, many people look back and ask themselves, ‘What could I have done better? What opportunities did I miss?’ And you reach a point where you become self-assured that you did the best that you could at the time. But…” Hunter says, her gentle voice rising ever so slightly, “as long as you have the physical and mental capability, there’s always that opportunity to do more.”