University of Iowa Nursing professor Kathleen Buckwalter receives “Living Legend” honor

Kathleen Buckwalter, UI alumni, professor, and mentor, has received the honor of Living Legend by the American Nursing Association.


UI Professor Emeritus of Nursing Kathleen Buckwalter, PhD, RN, FAAN. Contributed.

Samantha Murray, News Reporter

Kathleen Buckwalter, long-time University of Iowa Professor Emeritus of Nursing, was named on Aug. 18 a Living Legend by the American Nursing Association — the group’s highest honor — for excellence in decades of teaching and researching.

Buckwalter completed her undergraduate degree at the UI in 1971, earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Immediately after graduation, she joined the U.S. Navy, serving as a nurse stationed primarily in Guam during the Vietnam War.

“We worked hard, and we played hard,” Buckwalter said of her military service. “I traveled a lot throughout the world, and came back, knowing that I needed more education.”

In 1974, she joined the master’s program at the UI College of Nursing. Her advisor, Ada J. Cox, convinced her to enroll in one of the few universities that offered a Ph.D. program in nursing, eventually choosing the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Buckwalter said she never fully moved to Chicago in her four years because of her husband’s residency program in Iowa City and the high rent prices the Windy City. Instead, she traveled between the two towns on Greyhound buses each week, living with a new classmate each trip.

She returned to the UI College of Nursing in 1980 as a faculty member, where she has remained for over three decades. In 1983, she began her specialization in geriatrics. She later became involved with numerous research projects, her favorite being a rural elderly outreach program that studied the effects of social isolation and dementia at the Center for Community Mental Health in Cedar Rapids.

“It was just so satisfying to be able to help people who were really very socially isolated, who may have been suffering for many years from an undetected, untreated mental illness and to do it in the context of an interdisciplinary team was probably my most rewarding clinical experience,” Buckwalter said.

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Josephine Gittler, the first woman to join the UI College of Law faculty, said she worked with Buckwalter on a variety of boards, including one that focuses on health policy. Gittler said she considers it an honor to have worked with the nursing professor.

“I just personally am so pleased that her contributions have been recognized,” Gittler said. “I really do think that designation of a Living Legend…  is truly well deserved.”

During her decades-long career, Buckwalter said she mentored several students that went on to work in geriatric mental health, including Associate Professor Marianne Smith.

Smith said from her undergraduate days to her current faculty position, she and Buckwalter have remained friends.

When Smith returned to the UI after receiving her master’s degree from the University of Colorado, she said that she planned to go into pediatric nursing. After speaking with Buckwalter and hearing her thoughts about the geriatrics area of study, she decided to follow her mentor into the field.

“That was the best decision I’ve made in my life,” Smith said. “It was inspirational. That’s the deal: She inspires people. She has the capacity to help people find their niche with the right amount of support without being overbearing.”