Sandra Greniewicki, Anne Warren Thomas Professor of Nursing & Health Policy, poses for a photo inside the Lockett-Mitchell Parlour. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Sandra Greniewicki: Pliable Heart

In May of 1961, President John F. Kennedy tapped into that nascent mother lode of good old American faith and chutzpah when he declared that the veritable global laughing stock of a U.S. space program would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. A year earlier, a group of Gainesville, Georgia, citizens declared that in three years 10 students would receive diplomas from the nursing school they just established without any professional reputation, accreditation, endowment or operating capital.

Although on different scales, both outlandish visions came to pass, proving that if you put enough heart, soul and faith into it, a dream can come true.

That Hall School of Nursing three-year diploma program from the 1960s ultimately morphed into Brenau University’s Mary Inez Grindle School of Nursing, which over the years has produced hundreds of graduates with bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in nursing, who have improved health care for hundreds of thousands of people.

Sandra Greniewicki, Anne Warren Thomas Professor of Nursing & Health Policy, poses for a photo inside the Lockett-Mitchell Parlour. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)It truly is a remarkable story of the beginnings of a transformation in both the community and an institution. As her last major contribution to Brenau, the person who wants to tell that story is the Anne Warren Thomas nursing professor Sandra Atkinson Greniewicki, whose qualification for writing the history is that she helped make it.

Greniewicki has worn just about every hat on the rack – faculty liaison, consultant, chair, dean, provost, two named professorships – in the roughly 30 years that she has had formal roles. However, her relationship with Brenau covers four decades during which she worked intermittently in key positions at schools in Virginia, Illinois, North Carolina, Alabama and Michigan. Her international health care leadership has extended into both China and Mexico, where she taught and practiced nursing in several large universities. She has been a regular financial contributor to the nursing program over the years and is considering establishing an estate gift. A few years ago she came out of retirement to help Brenau establish its first doctorate – a nursing practice degree for those who function in generally the same capacity as physician assistants in diagnosing and treating patients.

“I can’t imagine life without Brenau,” she says.

Greniewicki grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and followed in the footsteps of both her father, a school teacher, and her mother, who got a nursing degree at 55. Although Sandra did not wait that long to get her first degree, when she was not too long out of high school she astounded her somewhat ethnocentric parents by marrying a Polish-surnamed man from Detroit 10 years her senior. Husband Daniel, a mechanical engineer who designed and sold heavy industrial equipment throughout the Southeast, not only “put me through nursing school,” she says, but also introduced her to Gainesville where the Greniewicki family owned a vacation home on Lake Lanier.

Greniewicki became something of a helicopter parent in Georgia. She enrolled her eldest daughter, Nell Hoyle, WC ’80, in the Women’s College and her youngest, Jullie King, WC ’83, BU ’86, in Brenau Academy, where she thought she could keep a closer watch over them. “I attended a lot of teas on campus,” she jokes. And, she talked to lots of people about their educations, including then Brenau President James Rogers. Once he learned about her nursing background in Alabama, he offered her a job to help with the transition of the Hall School of Nursing into the Brenau fold.

Her wish list for the future of the school includes more diversity in students and faculty from different parts of the country with broader experience, continuously evolving curriculum to meet changing needs in the profession, completion of the proposed expansion of the showcase human simulator laboratory at the school and a clinic for human patients where students can get quicker first-hand experience. She wants Brenau nursing students to get more engaged with other aspects of the university during their student days and stay in touch after graduation to help maintain fundamental values of Brenau nursing education.

Nurses must have, “pliable hearts, capable of handling the most tender and challenging situations,” she says. “The nurses who have graduated from Brenau have carried their special hearts into many settings. But they may never have been in service to humanity had it not been for the efforts of an the insightful, dedicated and determined group,” who envisioned and sustained the school.

Add to that list the name Sandra Greniewicki.

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