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Legacy nurse retires after almost six decades of caring for babies

May 01, 2023

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Iris Bargar laughs when she thinks about the note a nursing instructor put into her file years ago. The teacher, apparently unimpressed with Iris, saw no future in nursing for the young student.

“She doesn’t seem to have the interest in it,” the instructor scribbled.

If only that teacher knew. On April 30, Iris retired from Legacy after 56 years as a nurse in the Emanuel family birth unit.

“Here I am, years later, still holding down the fort,” chuckled Iris.

In the almost six decades that Iris spent roaming the halls of Legacy Emanuel Medical Center and later Randall Children’s Hospital at Emanuel, she saw firsthand the technological advances that greatly improved the lives and chances of survival for both baby and parent. Iris estimates that her work helped and supported 56,000 families.

“I’ve enjoyed my work, very much,” said Iris.

Iris took a few minutes from a recent shift on the seventh floor of Randall Children’s Hospital to reflect on her career. She surrounded herself with scrapbooks filled with pictures from her 50th anniversary and handwritten notes from former patients.

Born in Canada, Iris’s father pushed his two daughters to get an education and career. Back then, Iris recalls, that meant a job in teaching, nursing or banking. Iris’s sister chose banking.

Iris enrolled in the nursing program at Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. The three-year program was primarily a hands-on learning experience with some classroom instruction in the nursing dorms.

She graduated in 1964 and moved to Calgary with her husband and two small children. But the new family wouldn’t be there for long. Iris’s husband yearned to live in the United States and specifically California. He was about to start the immigration process when a visit to the dentist changed the family’s course.

“The dentist said, ‘You don’t want to go to California. You want to go to Portland, Oregon,’” recalled Iris.

So, that’s where the family moved. The Multnomah County Hospital, which sat where OHSU is now located, sponsored Iris’s move. She spent only a few months there before her husband took a job in Kelso, Washington. But within three months the family was on the road south to Portland.

Once back, Iris applied for a nursing position at Emanuel. She asked for a 3 to 11 p.m. shift because she didn’t want to work nights and assumed a day shift wasn’t possible for a new hire.

“When I came in for the interview, the head of family birth said she wanted to hire me, but that she only had a day shift available,” Iris said. “I told her a day shift would be fine.”

Iris marvels at the technological advances that came during her career. She saw the creation of neonatal intensive care units, ultrasounds and new drugs that help premature babies survive.

“It’s awesome to think that we can now save babies in the 22-week range of development,” she said.

Her Legacy colleagues became her second family. They helped her through the grief of losing her first husband and the joys of her second marriage. She’ll miss them terribly, along with the families and babies.

So, why is now the time to retire?

“I have a new person in my life,” Iris said, with a sly smile. “So, that has brought me to the realization that maybe it’s time to move on and start a new adventure.”

The couple is moving to Phoenix and get planning several road trips. Iris will also take on a small craft project. A few years ago, Iris started giving her patients pens with her phone number inscribed on the pen’s barrel. She wants to create a photo wall of all those baby photos that were sent to her.

“I’m going to really miss those families and handling those little babies,” said Iris. “But it’s time to move on.”

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