Unsung heroes: Alice Loper
GC Student Health Services Director Alice Loper is coming up on her 48th year as a nurse. She said that growing up, she always knew she wanted to be a nurse.
“Whenever people ask me why I wanted to be a nurse, I never had an answer for them,” Loper said. “It’s always just been within.”
Alice grew up in a small North Carolina town. Her mother and sister were both teachers, but she knew she wanted to be like the nurses who took care of her during her childhood.
“Growing up, anytime I had to go to the doctor, I just loved them,” she said. “They used to wear the crisp white uniforms and had cool sweet hands. They were so sweet, and I knew that’s always what I wanted to be.”
Approaching her high school graduation, most students who wanted to pursue nursing were advised to attend a three-year nursing diploma school. However, Loper insisted on going to college and getting a degree.
Loper attended Lenoir Rhyne College, a small liberal arts school in Hickory, North Carolina, where she received her bachelor’s of science in nursing. The school is well known for its nursing program.
In 1971, Loper and her close friend were the first two degree holding nurses at Cleveland Memorial Hospital in Shelby, North Carolina. She worked in that hospital for seven years before going back to school at Emory University to get her master’s in adult health with a focus in pulmonary health.
In 1979, Loper married her husband Bill. In 1981, she co-founded a pulmonary rehabilitation clinic in North Carolina, where she helped design a program for patients with chronic lung diseases. The programs help recondition patients’ muscle tone and improve their ability to walk.
During her time at the clinic, Loper helped several patients regain bodily functions and learn techniques to improve their breathing.
In 1985, Loper and her husband moved to Atlanta. The couple opened their Buckhead home to women who were pregnant and unmarried, assisting them throughout their pregnancy journey.
“We acted like their parents, and they came there in their later stages of pregnancy,” she said. “After their pregnancy, most of the women released their children for adoption, and we helped them during that time, so it was a challenging.”
Loper also spent a year working as a real estate agent but decided that she was not suited for a career in real estate. She took this as a sign that she needed to return to her passion for nursing.
In the early 80s, Loper and her husband moved to the Lake Oconee area, where she started working as a patient educator at Central State Hospital. She attended Emory University to work on her post-master’s as a nurse practitioner.
Loper has been at GC for 28 years. For the first 18 years, she taught nursing while working in the campus clinic. Today, every nurse practitioner at GC is one of her former students.
Nurse Practitioner Angie Mason graduated from GC’s nursing program and has worked with Loper for 14 years.
“She is wonderful, and she works with us very well,” Mason said of Loper. “She goes above and beyond on her duties behind the curtain.”
When she is not working, Loper loves to spend time with her sister and her sister’s family.
“My husband and I never had any children, but my sister did, and our nephews really felt like our children, too,” she said. “Now they have their own children, so their kids feel like our grandchildren.”
Loper and her husband also spend a lot of their free time in the mountains. They are currently building their second home in the mountains, and they plan to move there permanently in the future.
Loper also holds two-part time positions outside of GC, working at the local hospital as a staff educator and working in a hospice facility. She also holds a position on the board of Volunteer of America, working to provide housing for those with mental disabilities.
“I like to work,” Loper said. “I prefer that over housekeeping. I like to cook, but I would rather work, so that’s why I do it all the time.”
Loper’s former student and current colleague Leah Barbee says her time with Loper has been nothing but enjoyable.
“She is very patient, very knowledge about nursing,” Barbee said. “It was very neat going from having her as a teacher to working with her as a colleague. She is very interested you personally and always looks out for your best interest.”
During her time at GC, Loper said GC students have changed over the years.
“Years ago, I can remember that students wanted excuses for missing class,” she said. “Now, students seem they want to be in class and are much more driven and engaged in their studies.”
As for advice for students, Loper says to find what inside of your heart and pursue it.
“Whatever you choose to do in life needs to be your passion, and you need to enjoy it,” she said. “You have to be ethical: you have to be honest and basically care for people. You get decide the kind of person you want to be.”