Margene “Jeannie” Bufkin was born in Decatur, Mississippi to Ozro and Mattie Mae Huddleston. Work ethics were instilled into this small stature of a woman at an early age as were strong Christian values. Hard work and determination lead her to graduating from Boler High School at the age of sweet 16, 11 months, and 22 days. At the age of 18, she came to Reno, Nevada searching for work.
Jeannie came to Renown Health, formerly known as Washoe Medical Center, in 1956 to work as a nurse’s aide. She felt her career was more than just a job, it was also a calling she attributes to her Christian faith. She held that position until 1984 when she transferred to the Labor and Delivery unit to become a scrub tech, a position she still holds to this day. In August of 2011 a mile stone will be reached as she celebrates 55 years as a full-time employee at Renown Health Systems, an accomplishment no one else has reached in the history of the organization.
Jeannie has an incredible history with the organization. She has worked for 21 years of her career without calling in sick even one day, after the birth of her first grandson. When asked how many of the 4,111 babies delivered she has been a part of, she modestly says, “More than I can count.” She is described by her co-workers as a humble person, a hard worker with high expectations, and someone who is passionate about making sure that the doctors have the right equipment in order for the delivery room to run smoothly.
OSI – When did you move to Reno?
Jean Bufkin – I moved to Reno November of 1955.
OSI – What did you think of Reno when you first arrived here?
Jean Bufkin – Well, when I first came out west, I went to Herlong, California. And I didnt like that at all. I kept worrying my Dad. I told him, I want to see the town. He said, Wait until the morning and I will take you to see the town. So we got up, got dressed, and he says, Come on and I will take you up to see the town. He took me up to the post office and said, You are in the middle of town. (Laughter) I stayed in Herlong for one week and decided I had to get out of there, so I went to Reno, Nevada and got a room with the Danslers. Mrs. Dansler worked, Mr. Dansler worked in Herlong and so I was in that big house all by myself. And I was really like the Beverly Hillbillies. One day I heard this music and I thought, Oh, this house plays music. One day Mrs. Dansler was home and the music came on again and she answered the door and I thought, Oh, when the music plays that means that somebody is at the door. I didnt know it was the doorbell. (Laughter)
One day she took me to look for a job so I went and put in an application at what was at that time called Washoe Medical Center. Mrs. Dansler worked there but I didnt get hired there right away. In the meantime I went to work for the Wingfields who owned the Riverside Hotel at that time. I was their babysitter. They also had a maid, a seamstress, and a cook. All I did was baby-sit. When the kids wanted to go to the movie I had to take them. Well I didnt drive, the chauffer took us but I had to go with them. So that was really good. I did that for a year and after that I went to the Snows who owned the Velvet Ice Cream Company and I worked for them a year. So finally I thought, I dont like this. I only had one day off and that was a Monday. They would bring me into town and drop me off at the Danslers for that one day and then I would take a cab back. So I said to Mrs. Dansler, You know I really dont like this. I want a job that I can go to and then come home! So she says to me, Come on. Im taking you to Washoe She took me to Washoe and I got a job as a CNA, well at that time it was called a Nurses Aide. So I started working there for ninety-six cents an hour. Ninety-six cents an hour. My first paycheck was sixty-eight dollars. The next one was seventy, I still have the stubs. Ive stayed there all of that time working.
OSI – How long have you worked at Washoe/Renown?
Jean Bufkin – It will be Fifty-five years the 15th of August of 2011.
OSI – As you think of your experience through the years you have worked at Washoe/Renown, how has the treatment and employment of minorities changed?
Jean Bufkin – Well, Ive seen it change a lot for the simple fact then when I first started working there I would go into the hospital rooms to take inventory and check the patients. I never will forget this one particular incident in the room of a patient. Every time I would pick up an item the wife of the patient would take it from me. So I went ahead and did what I could do and then I left. Sometime afterward my nurse came and said to me, Im going to give you another patient because you work so hard. Im going to give him to these white girls. Well now, I was from the south but I wasnt stupid. I went to my supervisor and I said something to her about it. And she said, Im busy and dont have time to talk right now. I will get back to you. So my supervisor came back later and told me, I know you are not stupid. I am going to tell you, those people are prejudice. They dont want you in the room. But the RN wouldnt tell me that. She told me dont you go back in the room.
There was another time this lady came in as a patient and wanted something for pain. I said, OK. I will tell your nurse but she is busy at the moment. It might be a few minutes. So pretty soon the supervisor came and said that a doctor had called her and said his patient had requested something for pain and someone told her that we were too busy. So she wanted to know who said it. I was the first one to say I didnt. She says, Oh really? She said it was you. So she took me down to the room in front of this patient, and she asked the patient, Is this the person who told you that? She said, Yes . And the lady that was in the bed next to her shook her head [no] like this. And the supervisor said, Thank you. When we got back to the front desk the supervisor said. Dont go into that room again. By that time the other patient in the room came up and she said, That woman is lying. She did not tell her that. And she told the supervisor exactly what I had told her. So about fifteen or twenty minutes later the patient who lied requested that I come to the room and talk to her. I said, OK. but I didnt go. She calls again. I said, OK, Ill be there. So when her visitors came up, they found me and said. She wants to talk to you. I said, I will be there but I have to do this first. So when I looked around she was behind me. She said, Oh, I apologize. I was just in so much pain. But she could have got me fired lying like that.
Another time after I became a Scrub Tech, I was working with a doctor from Africa and he did not like me standing beside him. He would always say that I was giving him the wrong instrument when I knew that I was not. So he would grab instruments off my table or throw them across the room. I got so angry one day and I went to my supervisor and I said, I dont like this doctor. Hes prejudice. And they went back and told him what I said. I had another case with him and he said to me, Jeanie, they called me Jeanie, I was told that you said something about me and I want to know if it is true. And I said, Tell me and I will tell you if it is true. Your supervisor told me that you said I was prejudice. I said, That is very true. Yes I did say that. He said, Why would you say that? I said, Because of the way you treat me. And you dont treat the white girls the same way. I was the only black on that floor up until two years ago. The only black. We had black doctors come but they left. When the case was over the doctor said, I want to talk to you. So he took me down a hall into a room and closed the door. And I thought, If this man hits me Im going to be a rich woman. So he sat down and he told me that he was from Africa and the reason he left Africa was to avoid going to jail for helping the blacks there. I said, Im not concern with Africa. Ive never been there. Dont plan on going there. I am concerned with me and how you treat me. So he continued to tell me he was going to have a party at his house and I was invited. I said, Ok And then he went right out and talked to the nurses and told them he did not want me scrubbing his cases. They told him, Im sorry but she is the only Scrub Tech weve got. If you dont want Jeanie then you will have to take them to Saints or some place else. So you know what he did? He cared for his patients at Saint Marys and sometime after that he left town and moved to San Francisco.
OSI – How has your experience at Renown changed for the better?
Jean Bufkin – Well the doctors and the nurses are very good. They treat me like I am one of them. They no longer act as though they dont want to be with me. They come and give me big hugs and thank me for what I do. It has really changed for the better. Because of the amount of time Ive been there some of the doctors communicate their concern that I dont get weekends off. As long as I have been there I should have weekends off. All of that stuff. It has really changed. Even the supervisors.
OSI – -What would you say to a young person that is thinking about going into that field.
Jean Bufkin – I would tell them it is a good field to go into. Like my grandson, he wants to go into the medical field. I told him it is a very good field to go into, but one thing about it you cannot go into it on drugs or verbally abusing the patients. I think it is a very good field to go into. The only thing I would have done differently is I would not have gone in as a Scrub Tech or CNA. I would have reached higher because that is where the money is. What I do you dont make that much money. We use to get extra bonuses. Every year I use to get $50 for every year Ive worked. But because of the economy we dont get longevity any more. We dont get the company picnic or $30 for Thanksgiving. We dont get that anymore.
OSI – How has Reno changed for the better?
Jean Bufkin – Reno has changed a lot for the better because when I first came here blacks could not go into the clubs. The only way you could go into a club was if you went in with a guy that was in the Air Force. But he could not play and he had to have his uniform on. They could not gamble. We had no place where we could go and sit down and eat but Woolworths. That was the only place blacks could go eat other than the new China Club. Also there was the Soul Club. That was a black club and we could go there. Other wise downtown, you just could not do it. I remember one time we were in Virginia City and this black guy was going to play the machines. Someone who worked there came and told him we had to go and we couldnt play the machines. And even when my husband and I were buying a house in 1952, there was two houses in Reno we could buy. The one on A Street and one on Helena Street. Those were the only two houses made available for us to buy. We would go different places and look at houses and they would see us coming and because we were black they would hide in the closets. One time we went all through a house looking and my husband opened a closet door and the agent was hiding in there. So my husband told him we were interested in getting a house and wanted to know what we should do. The agent said that there were a lot of things you can do but I have to tell you this, I cannot sell you one of these houses. We said, Why? He said, Because youre black and because in Las Vegas they sold houses to blacks, and blacks tore them up and didnt pay for them. Thats what he told us. So we had a hard time and that is why we ended up with the little house on A Street. We kept going all around looking for available houses. We tried to get the house up near the corner on Greenbrae and the man there said that because I was still childbearing age my husband would have to go and get a vasectomy. Yes they did. In another location the man told him we couldnt afford it. He said, Im a salesman and I cant afford it. You are a cook so why do you think you can afford it. So we could not buy there either. It happened one night my husband was out with this guy and he was telling him that he wanted to buy a house and nobody would sell him one and the man said, What color is your money/ And my husband said, My money is green. And the man said, So is mine. I am a contractor and I have land. If you want a house I will build you a house. And my husband said, Ok So he arranged for us to meet with him. His office was right here on Greenbrae. Now we bought the lot two doors down from here, and he asked me how many bedrooms I wanted and I said four bedrooms and he said the lot we choose was a little too small. Why dont I put you on a bigger lot. Mr. Cooke was his name. He came and showed us what the house would look like. And he built us this house. Thats how we got here. And he told us he wanted us to live here five years and then he would get us a house going toward Virginia City. However after three years the guy killed himself. So we have stuck with it. Its a nice house. I like it.
OSI – Through out the years that you have worked at Washoe Med/Renown, how many lives have you positively touch? How many people have you cared for and encouraged?
Jean Bufkin – Thats a question I cant answer. A lot. A lot. Yeah. I cant say how many but it is a lot.