Ceremony remembers nursing prof’s life, work and mentoring

The celebration honored Roxanne Struthers’ American Indian heritage.

During a celebration to honor a former University nursing professor, an empty office filled with the smoke of burning sage intended to release her spirit.

The American Indian ritual, performed Monday, honored School of Nursing professor Roxanne Struthers.

Struthers died Dec. 10 of acute lymphocytic leukemia. She was one of 14 American Indians in the country with a nursing doctorate and the first American Indian to receive one from the University, said Mary Pattock, the Nursing School’s director of communications.

After receiving her master’s degree and doctorate in nursing, Struthers’ work at the University included teaching, research and mentoring, nursing professor Helen Hansen said.

Struthers taught courses in research, public health nursing, global health and an online course on American Indian health, Hansen said.

Struthers’ research focused on indigenous ways to manage Type 2 diabetes and cigarette smoking among American Indians, she said.

“She always wanted to do as much for her Native American people as she could,” said her husband, Jim Struthers.

At the time of her death, Roxanne Struthers was working on projects and research totaling $1.7 million, said former nursing dean Sandra Edwardson.

Roxanne Struthers’ experience and knowledge made her well-networked, accepted and successful in the American Indian nursing community, Hansen said.

She encouraged American Indian students in the Nursing School to earn their doctorates and worked as a key faculty member on the Bridge Project, which helps American Indians continue to the doctorate level, Hansen said.

“She was quite well-loved,” Pattock said.

Nursing doctoral student Lisa Martin-Crawford said she learned “the importance of spirituality in research” and how intertwined the two topics are.

Roxanne Struthers’ studies involved her beliefs and through research, she increased her knowledge of those beliefs, Martin-Crawford said.

Roxanne Struthers’ Ojibwe traditions, like burning sage, were practiced in December during her last moments with her co-workers present. The hospital security guard placed his cap over the smoke detector to let the ritual proceed, Hansen said.

“It was very extraordinary,” she said. “It was a different way to see someone die.”

The celebration of Roxanne Struthers’ life Monday carried on many of her traditions and allowed co-workers, family and friends to partake in the rituals.

The ceremony began with the burning of sage in a dish that was carried around the silent room so people could waft the smoke over their bodies.

Nursing professor Melissa Avery attended the ceremony and said she was working on projects with Roxanne Struthers until her death.

“Some (projects) are still ongoing and will continue without her, but with her spirit,” she said.

Many who attended spoke of Roxanne Struthers’ spirit and the comfort they find in her spiritual strength.

“The sun shined today,” said nursing Dean Connie Delaney. “That’s Roxanne.”

Freelance Editor Emily Kaiser welcomes feedback at [email protected].