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Columbia Missourian

Gertrude Dawson worked as surgical nurse, treated children with polio

By Caroline Michler
October 8, 2012 | 8:39 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Gertrude Lavera Dawson died March 19, 2012, at the age of 100 without ever knowing why her parents chose "Lavera" as her middle name.

Mrs. Dawson's daughter, Jean Husted, said her mother always wondered about the name choice. Husted said her mother said: "For all I know, she named me after a cow."

"My mother was funny," Husted said.

Husted said that after her mother married Joseph Carl Dawson in 1941, she went by Gertrude A. Dawson, using the "A" from her maiden name, Aufranc, and dropping Lavera altogether.

Before she married, Mrs. Dawson graduated from Hickman High School and went on to the MU Sinclair School of Nursing, although she originally wanted to be a teacher. The Sinclair School was free, however, and two of her older brothers had gone into medicine. 

Mrs. Dawson graduated from Sinclair in 1934. She later received a grant to attend George Peabody State Teachers College at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where she earned her master's degree in public health education in 1934. Husted said education was emphasized in her household growing up.

Mrs. Dawson worked for Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis for a year as a surgical nurse. She then worked with children suffering from polio as a public nurse. The state of Missouri trained her to fly a Cessna aircraft so she could treat children living on isolated farms in the state. 

After two years, Mrs. Dawson accepted a promotion and went to work in Iowa, visiting remote farms by car. She flew only as a passenger on commercial flights after leaving Missouri.

The family used to say "Daddy had clipped her wings," Husted said. At the age of 90, though, Mrs. Dawson's son and his spouse took her on a 45-minute glider flight over Boulder and Denver, Colo.

Husted said her mother was hospitable, always making dinner and inviting guests over. She described her childhood as "a wonderful way to grow up."

Husted also described her mother as a "clothes horse," even after her 100th birthday. Husted said she used to bring clothes from Talbots, Coldwater Creek and Chico's to the retirement community in Littleton, Colo., where her mother lived. Then she let her mother pick what she wanted to keep. Husted said her mother loved sequins and beautiful clothes. 

Mrs. Dawson and her husband ran two businesses related to fumigation for grains.

Mrs. Dawson played 18 holes of golf often until she was 85, dropping to nine holes and stopping when she turned 90. Mrs. Dawson also enjoyed bridge.

She was also involved in the P.E.O. Sisterhood; she was president of every chapter she joined.

"She was a leader in many things she did," Husted said.

Mrs. Dawson was born July 10, 1911, in Callaway County to Daniel William Abraham and Mary Johanna (Carl) Aufranc. Her family later moved to Deer Park in southern Boone County.

She married J. Carl Dawson on June, 29, 1941, and they moved to Midland, Mich.

Mrs. Dawson is survived by her daughters, Jean Husted and her husband, Dick, of Littleton, Colo., and Joan Kay Huhn and her husband, Ken, of Le Claire, Iowa; her son, James Carl "Jimmy" Dawson and his wife, Pam, of Highlands Ranch, Colo.; a sister, Dorothy; two sisters-in-law, Helen Aufranc and Bonnie Aufranc; six grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.

Her husband and eight siblings died earlier.

The family held a memorial service for Mrs. Dawson on March 21 but will scatter her ashes at Walnut Grove Cemetery in Paris, Mo., between 10:30 and 11 a.m. Saturday. Those wishing to attend should meet at the cemetery by 10:30 a.m. Weather permitting the ashes will be scattered. If the weather is inclement, services will be at 10:30 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church on Main Street in Paris, Mo. Following the service, there will be a luncheon at the home of Joan Huhn on Marceson Drive in Columbia.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.