The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 15, 2013

Major Candon

At 102, Candon has lived a life filled with remarkable service and accomplishments

For the Star Beacon

— If anyone can be described as having a long life filled with remarkable service and accomplishments, it’s Marian Candon. At 102, the Country Club Retirement Center resident is still going strong, and until just a few years ago regularly e-mailing, corresponding and living on her own. She is a decorated veteran of World War II and the Korean Conflict who spent years in nursing and teaching. Candon was one of the few females in the Army advanced to the rank of major, and was responsible for helping establish important nursing education institutions in this area and around the world.

Born in Michigan in April of 1911, Candon’s parents migrated to the United States in the early 1900s from Slovenia, when it was part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. She was one of five children. The family did well with a vegetable garden, a cow, chickens and wild game. In her auto-bio Candon described it as “a satisfactory, busy life.”

But one of Michigan’ enormous forest fires in 1915 put an end to that. A burning branch struck their roof and set it afire, forcing Candon’s parents to evacuate and carry the children to safety at the nearby lake waterfront.

After that her father had to find work in Cleveland. The remaining family lived with relatives in almost tenement-like conditions in Chicago until they could join him. Her brother Billy died at age three there and her sister was placed in a tuberculosis sanitarium for a while.

In an interview at the Country Club Retirement Center, when asked if the safety emergencies and diseases of her early life inspired her to become a nurse, she said, “No, I don’t think that was the main reason I became a nurse.”

When asked what made her want to be a nurse, she smiled and answered, “I think it was the uniform.”

After a short chuckle, Candon answered seriously.

“You automatically knew you were serving the people,” she said. “That was the important thing.”

Candon said her sister Vera, one year older, was a great influence on her.

“Although we struggled financially, Vera and I achieved our educational goals,” Candon said. “Vera earned her PhD in Education and Psychology and went on to head the psychology department for Cleveland Public Schools. My goal was nursing.”

Candon’s family rejoined her father in East Cleveland after he saved enough to send for them. After graduating from East High School in 1929, she became a Registered Nurse (RN) at Metropolitan (City) Hospital in Cleveland in 1932. She earned her BS in Education in 1939 from Ohio State University.

When World War II began in 1941, Candon had been working in nursing and teaching in New Hampshire, and returned to Cleveland to join the Red Cross and teach high school students. But her real career in nursing education began with the Army’s need for nurses as the war in Europe heated up. Candon volunteered for the Army and was appointed to the rank of captain in 1943.

She was responsible for training up to 120 nurses in one rotating program. There were always 120 Army nurse trainees, some just started, some ready to graduate.

“It was quite an assignment,” Candon said. “Forty would come, then another forty, then another, with 120 cadets altogether. The Army needed nurses.”

From then on until her retirement Candon trained Army nurses at military bases around the country, in Europe and Korea. She was assigned as Assistant Chief Nurse to the 21st Army General Hospital in Germany after its surrender and saw much of the horror the conflict had caused, and also taught German nurses. Candon was awarded an Army commendation ribbon in 1944. She was Chief Nurse for most of the rest of her assignments. During the Korean conflict in 1953 she supervised the nursing education of Koreans in hospitals in Taegu and Pusan, and was awarded an Army Commendation Ribbon with pendant in 1954.

Candon got her MA in nursing education in 1949 from Case Western Reserve. In Cleveland and around the nation she was active in promoting campaigns and nursing education for the Red Cross and Army throughout the 1950s. Candon was Director of Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas in the late 1950s. She retired from the military in 1961 at the rank of major.

Some friends and family members claim she was the first female ever to achieve the rank of major. Although she was definitely one of the few to attain that rank in the 1940s, she adamantly denies being the first.

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “There was a female colonel over me.”

In the early 1960s Candon and two other nurses developed and started Cuyahoga Community College’s Nursing Education degree program. She retired as a full professor, and has continued to be involved in nursing issues since then right into the late 1990s.

She spent much of her adult life in Euclid. In 2003 she and her sister Vera and then brother Adolph and his wife Helen moved into apartments at the Country Club Retirement Center in Ashtabula. Candon didn’t go into assisted living there until 2011 after Vera and Adolph died. Helen is still living in an apartment there. Candon never married, but is still visited regularly by nephews and other relatives.

Despite her age, Candon still gets around and is remarkably lucid. She has some hearing problems but her memory and speech are intact.

“It’s comfortable here,” she said. “I still get to see members of my family.”

The Country Club Retirement Center’s Julie Hunt said, “Marian is an extraordinary woman. She personifies everything women should aspire to be; compassionate, intelligent and selfless. I’ve grown very close to Marian and her family.”