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Lessons of compassion and patience

97-year old Macy Burgin continues her mission for history

(LEFT): Macy Burgin in her uniform when she was a World War II nurse. (RIGHT): This 97-year-old woman, Macy Burgin, spends much of her time researching her ancestors .

MANTI—She was working in a Jewish home for the aged when she finally asked, “Why?”

“Why doesn’t the Heavenly father take these people home? Why are they still here?” she asked as she served the elderly men and women, many of whom had been in Nazi concentration camps. A rabbi said to her, “Perhaps they are here for you. Do you have something to learn from caring for these people, like compassion or patience?” 

Macy Burgin has carried the wisdom from that day ever since.

“Maybe that’s why we’re here, to learn,” she said in an interview. 

Now similar in age to the people she served long ago, 97-year-old Burgin is still learning. 

Her passion for learning and affinity for history led her to genealogy.   She spends much of her free time researching her ancestors and finding facts about her family tree. 

But before she was learning about history, she was a part of it.  Burgin served four years as nurse during World War II. 

After graduating high school, Burgin, then Macy Read, joined the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps.  The program was established in 1943 to address the nursing shortage that resulted from sending nurses overseas with military troops. Women in the program were given expedited training at colleges and universities with scholarships. Burgin earned her training from Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The Catholic school provided an intense experience.  

Many women, most fresh out of high school like Burgin, joined the corps, eager to serve their country in a time of need. And for Burgin, the passion for nursing came long before the war.

“I had wanted to be a nurse since I was a little girl,” she said.

Following her education, she was transferred to a military hospital in Des Moines, where she cared for soldiers for four years.

Initially, she worked with patients who had suffered traumas that caused paralysis in different areas of the body. 

She was later transferred to a ward of the hospital that assisted patients facing psychiatric maladies, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), from witnessing the scourge of war. 

It was “emotionally difficult” to watch so many men, most just her age, suffer anguish beyond their years, she said.

Following the end of the war in 1945, Burgin was honorably discharged. 

Nurses in the program remain the only uniformed corps members from World War II who are not recognized as veterans, according to the American Organization for Nurse Leadership.  In 2019, the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps Recognition Act, which would provide nurses with veteran status, limited burial benefits and the ability for the Secretary of Defense to award service medals, was introduced to Congress.   But the bill has yet to be voted upon.

But Burgin is still grateful for the experiences she gained in the corps. 

“I want to thank the government for giving me the opportunity to serve,” she said.

While serving in the psychiatric ward, Burgin met a patient, John Haleen, who became her first husband. Together, they moved to southern California and had five children, one of whom died as an infant.

Burgin’s fervor for nursing continued after the war, and she worked in a variety of different places until her retirement.

When an earthquake struck California, she and her second husband, Keft Hofstra, decided it was time to move somewhere safer. That is when they first drove through the county and fell in love with Manti. They moved to the city in 1971.

While in Sanpete, she worked at Mayfield Manor, now called the Centerfield Community Living Center, until retirement. 

After retiring, she moved around to a few different places including St. George, Logan and Kanab.  A converted member of the LDS Church since 1959, Burgin worked in the St. George Temple for over 10 years. 

While living in Kanab, Burgin received news no woman wants to hear: she was diagnosed with breast cancer. To combat the disease, she underwent two surgeries and other treatments.

“She’s amazingly tough,” her daughter Ruth said. 

Burgin was a part of a 20 year study on the effectiveness of the drug Tamoxifen in treating breast cancer.  She is now cancer free. 

In 2006, Burgin moved back to Manti, where she now lives with Ruth.  The move back was one Burgin was happy to make. 

“It has always felt like home,” Ruth said. 

Burgin boasted Manti’s community spirit.

“The people just seem to care about each other.”

Continuing on the lesson she learned so long ago, Burgin uses her love of genealogy to keep learning from the people before her. And she hopes others can learn from her 97 years of living.

“I think I’m here for a reason.”