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UIHC employee retires after 45 years with love for Hawkeyes

BY LINDSAY DOUGLAS | JULY 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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In 1965, then 23-year-old Karen Plank began work as a nursing services clerk at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. And for the next 45 years, she watched the buildings, people, and technology change around her.

The 68-year-old Kalona native retired in December 2010 after more than four decades. Though she’s now filling relaxing days with word searches, gardening, and fishing, Plank remembers her early days of working at the UI when doctors and nurses would yell out commands as she juggled charts and phone lines.

“I enjoyed it; I can’t say I didn’t. I loved the challenge of it,” she said.

At the time, the central tower made up the entire hospital, and all the nurses wore dresses and “little caps.”

“We all wore dresses — that’s just the way it was,” Plank said.

Besides clerks and nurses, men dominated the Internal Medicine Department, and Plank, a mother of three, said a three-month maternity leave was unheard of.

But perhaps the biggest change Plank noticed wasn’t the people, it was the technology.

“I had to write everything out, everything,” she said.

On a daily basis, she was in charge of writing and organizing forms, charts, and files — all without a computer.

“I like the old-fashioned way better,” she said, despite dealing with hand cramps and worsening penmanship. “People that come today will never understand what I did back then; they just can’t imagine.”

And after almost half a century behind a desk on the Health Science Campus, she learned a thing or two, friends say.

“That woman, she knows everything,” said UIHC nurse Amanda Herbst. “She’s like a Rolodex of knowledge.”

But the only thing Plank knows more about is Hawkeye football.

“My biggest love is Iowa football,” she said. “That is the one thing besides my grandchildren that I enjoy most.”

She’s attended games since she was 5 years old, and she will be stationed in row 12 on the 20-yard line of Kinnick Stadium when the Hawkeyes kickoff this fall.

“She’s quiet until you get to know her, then she’ll start talking, especially if you bring up Hawkeye football,” Herbst said.

Herbst said that sometimes they could get Plank to rock the air guitar or pump up the Panchero’s burrito.

“This year, I’ll be rooting for James Vandenberg,” Plank said. “Oh, and I saw at spring practice that [Marcus] Coker should be good at running back.”

Both her lengthy career and her love of football came full circle for her retirement. Plank was brought to tears on her last day at the hospital as her coworkers, family, Herky, and the Hawkeye cheerleaders sent her off in true Black and Gold spirit.

Lori Kleopfer, Plank’s daughter, said her mother was “flabbergasted that we all knew about it and she didn’t.”

To top off the surprise, her retirement gifts included a Hawkeye pendant from her kids and a Hawkeye bench from coworkers.

“As if she didn’t have enough already,” Kleopfer said.


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