HISTORICAL LANDMARKS Dorothy Patach Environmental Area
How does Dorothy Patach's story fit into the broader history of immigrant neighborhoods,
the nursing profession, and women's environmental activism?
Photo Courtesy of University of Nebraska at Omaha Archives.
Power through Voice and Action
Research compiled by: Ty C. and Ebin R.
Dorothy Patach was born in South Omaha in 1923 to a family of Czech immigrants. She began her education at Hawthorne Elementary School and eventually graduated from South High School in 1941. Patach went on to the Nebraska School of Nursing (Lincoln) and graduated with her nursing degree in 1944. Throughout her education, she followed her father’s advice: “Just don’t become an educated fool.” Although her father supported her in receiving a higher education, he reminded her to remain informed about and involved in her direct community.
After receiving her nursing degree, she worked as an assistant operating room supervisor and clinical instructor at her alma mater for three years. She then moved on to Clarkson Hospital for eight years. During this time, she earned a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and a Master of Science in Nursing Education from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Patach began working with nursing students in 1956 at the Jenny Edmundson Hospital in Council Bluffs, Iowa. While working at various local hospitals, Patach helped to develop surgical drapes and was involved in the testing of Formula 99 (which later became known as Dial Soap). In 1959, Patach joined the staff at the University of Nebraska at Omaha until she retired in 1989.
Not only was Patach a nurse and educator, but she was also an activist within her community. The idea of community involvement was instilled within Patach as a child. Her parents were heavily involved with the upkeep of the neighborhood and as they got older, Patach began to take over their responsibilities. If problems arose in the neighborhood, she felt obliged to assist with the situation. For example, when her family experienced plumbing difficulties, she immediately took action by consulting with the city to fix the sewers. Patach is also an avid volunteer. She has worked with a variety of organizations in Omaha, most notably with sokol centers, the Spring Lake Neighborhood Association, the South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, the South Omaha Business Association, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Due to all her efforts in maintaining her community, Patach came to be memorialized by a seven-acre environmental area.
This photo depicts Sokol Hall off 13th and Martha in Omaha, Nebraska. As Patach was growing up, numerous sokol halls were scattered around South Omaha. Originally, sokol halls were activity centers for people of the Czech culture. Although they facilitated cultural activities, they specifically supported athletics and physical health. These centers gave the Czechs a feeling of home and kept Patach connected to her heritage. Patach’s grandparents immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s.
Although she considers herself full-blooded Bohemian and was invested in her Czech culture, she easily fit in with the diverse South Omaha community. She fondly looks back at her neighborhood where all different cultures lived together, from German to Russian and Irish to Hispanic. People were able to coexist together. When summed up, the distinct cultures of the South Omaha neighborhoods created something greater. Throughout her entire life Patach has brought all different types of people together to work toward common goals.
Photo Courtesy of History of Czechs (Bohemians) in Nebraska.
The article above is from the Dundee and West Omaha Sun, which was published on December 1, 1960. It shows how Dorothy Patach played a large role at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in teaching future nurses. Before becoming an educator, Patach graduated with her nursing degree in 1944. She was one of the first student nurses, without a previous college education, to enroll in the Nebraska School of Nursing (Lincoln). She originally wanted to be a doctor but was encouraged to pursue nursing instead, possibly because of the gender roles at the time. Although she did not follow her first choice in career, she went on to be very successful in nursing and teaching.
Patach stressed the fact that she became a teacher for the students and the students only. She deeply cared about her students’ success within college, but she also wanted them to develop a deep sense of community. The article above comments on how Patach taught one of the biggest classes of nurses that UNO had seen thus far. Later in her career, she became involved in administrative roles at UNO as well as other local hospitals. She was central in helping to grow nursing programs within Omaha. After impacting countless students, she retired from UNO in 1989. Patach, following her father’s advice, reminds us that education is not enough; you also have to work hard to get what you want. If you are concerned about your community, take control and take action. You are in charge of your own future.
Article Courtesy of University of Nebraska Archives and Dundee and West Omaha Sun.
In addition to nursing, Patach advocated for the environment in her community. This photo was found in the November 14, 2001 edition of the Omaha World Herald. It shows Patach in front of a future environmental area located off 20th and N streets in South Omaha, across the street from her childhood home. Patach wanted to name the area Heritage Park in recognition of the Native Americans who reportedly wintered there countless years before. However, due to her clean up efforts and dedication to the natural environment, the environmental area was to be named after Patach herself. Over the course of many years, she consistently reported incidents of dumping throughout the open land and demanded that the city have it cleaned. This area was actually one of the last areas she helped to restore. Patach was previously an active participant in getting numerous ravines in the South Omaha area filled and transformed into safe spaces for people to enjoy.
Her efforts parallel a nationwide movement to protect the environment. Although she was a powerful voice in her community and wasn’t afraid to express her concerns, she did face obstacles. The South Omaha community continues to fight pollution created by the industrialized and impoverished area. At times, it was also difficult to find volunteers who wanted to give their time in trying to restore Omaha to its natural beauty. However, Patach has remained persistent, even after all of these years, a testament to the impact of the individual.
Photo Courtesy of the Omaha World Herald.
Dorothy Patach Environmental Area
Photo Courtesy of Jessi Thomsen (taken 21 July 2015).
Thanks to MIHV I got the rare experience to meet history in person. For example, I got to interview Dorothy Patach. I had no prior knowledge on her environmental experience, and I was really surprised to learn that there are such strong environmentalists in Omaha.
When I first came to MIHV, I didn’t expect to meet such a nice and courageous person like Dorothy Patach. She has really helped and changed South Omaha and Omaha itself. It’s important to know and learn about people who have had an impact on our own communities. It’s also important to know about history and what or who has given us a new viewpoint.