Waldkoetter nursed historic hotel back to health


Sally Waldkoetter spent much of her life nursing others back to health.

The 81-year-old Vallonia woman, who died Sept. 21, graduated from Scottsburg High School in 1955 and Evansville College in 1959 with a Bachelor of Science in nursing. She received her master’s degree in nursing from Indiana University in 1965 and went on to attend the University of Cincinnati as a doctoral candidate.

Sally, whose given name was Sarah Margaret Waldkoetter, then worked at Babies Hospital at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City from 1959 to 1964 and was a professor of nursing at Columbia University. From 1965 to 1968, she was a professor of nursing at University of Cincinnati, and then from 1968 to 1993, she was professor emeritus at the University of Cincinnati.

That’s a pretty hefty résumé for anyone, and most might think it would be time to sit back and take it easy for a while, but not Sally.

In fact, she spent the past 20 years nursing a historic hotel on Main Street in Vallonia that was previously in shambles back to life.

In 1999, a group of Vallonia residents, including Sally, decided they wanted to tackle the restoration of the Joe Jackson Hotel, a Vallonia landmark, that was built in 1914.

At that time, the former hotel, which also housed a barbershop, was in such a sad state of disrepair that many thought it should be torn down. Others, including Sally, however, felt differently and believed the hotel could be made a pillar of the community one day.

Sally said at the time that the group was going to keep working until the restoration was finished. She would lead the charge to ensure that would happen.

Over the years, the restoration work has proceeded at a sometimes uneven pace, financed in part through monthly fish fries organized by Waldkoetter and others.

During the annual Jackson County United Way Day of Caring in recent years, work crews have come down and completed projects at the hotel. There also has been some grant monies over the years.

Through all of the ups and downs, Sally was undaunted and never doubted the hotel would be restored.

The only doubt Sally, who remained chairwoman of the Joe Jackson Hotel Restoration Committee until her death, ever voiced to me was that the project might not be completed before she passed away.

I always told Sally that she didn’t need to worry about that because there was no doubt in my mind that it will be completed because she had put the pieces in place to make sure it did.

Upon hearing of Sally’s death, Greg Sekula, director of the Southern Region of Indiana Landmarks, praised her untiring effort to see the project to the end.

"Her death is especially bittersweet as the county recently received a $225,000 Office of Community and Rural Affairs grant to complete part of the building’s interior as a community center," he said. "Sally was one of those inspiring Hoosiers who returned to small-town Indiana and worked to make a difference in her community. After a career in nursing, she nursed an ailing building in her retirement and saved an important part of Jackson County history. She was a force. We need more people like her in this world."

We certainly could.

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