Mary Ellen DuPertuis knew Merced when the population was just 18,000, not the more than 80,000 today. She knew Merced when there were close to no specialty doctors and when there was only one high school and junior high.
DuPertuis knew the medical field when supplies weren’t disposable, having to reuse and wash everything. She knew the nursing field when it was an honor to wear the white caps and when white stockings were required.
And, DuPertuis said, “I can never not remember wanting to be a nurse.”
After 60 years of working in Merced, the 81-year-old DuPertuis finally decided to retire this month.
As a young girl growing up in Davenport, Iowa, her goal was to become a nurse and make enough money to move to California and cross the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.
In 1956, DuPertuis not only crossed the famous bridge, but made a series of life-changing decisions within five days. She married her husband, Frank DuPertuis, moved to California and took her state board licensing test.
DuPertuis said since she moved to Merced, she has worked every day. As long as they needed her working, she was there, she said.
“I can honestly say I never hated to come to work,” DuPertuis said. “I hated getting up in the morning, but never hated going to work.”
DuPertuis said she met her husband at church and he practiced in Merced as a chiropractor. They raised their two children in Merced: David DuPertuis, now 54, and Stephanie Sancibrin, now 48. Her husband died 18 years ago, DuPertuis said.
For 47 of the 60 years she worked in Merced, she was on staff at all four Mercy Hospitals, including the current Mercy Medical Center, where she worked up until her retirement.
“As far as I know, I’m the only person alive who has done that,” DuPertuis said.
DuPertuis also worked in various doctor’s offices around Merced, and said she enjoyed working with every physician and, especially, the patients.
“You get very attached to your patients,” she said. “It was fun because you got to know them as a family and they treated you like family.”
Not only were the patients prominent in DuPertuis’ profession, but her co-workers became some of her oldest friends. They are the ones she’ll miss the most, she said. Many said they’ll miss her, too.
“Mrs. D has been a charm for me,” said Shirley Brown, a co-worker and friend of DuPertuis for 15 years. “I’ve never heard her story from beginning to end, and it’s inspiring to hear, honestly.”
Brown said it’s rare to see someone who still enjoys their profession, especially after doing it for more than half of their life.
“She still has the spark in her eyes for what she does,” Brown said.
DuPertuis graduated from the diploma program at St. Luke’s Hospital in Davenport with 12 other people, and said she was the last of them to retire and still keeps in touch with her old roommates from the dormitories.
She said she always enjoyed living in Merced and was never homesick for Iowa.
When it comes to retirement life, DuPertuis said, she isn’t going to make any big decisions until next year. As of now, she said, she wants to pick up sewing again, keep reading, entertaining and cooking for company.
“It was rewarding to have someone tell you how much they appreciated you, even though it was your job,” DuPertuis said. “I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.”