Family practice makes perfect

Romance bloomed at the School of Nursing, where William Tkacs (Nu'74) and Nancy Camenisch (Nu'75, GNu'77) met.

Nancy was the third generation in her family at Penn. Her father William Camenisch Jr. (W'46) and grandfather William Camenisch Sr. both attended Wharton.

This year, Nancy C. Tkacs returned to the nursing school as a member of the faculty, an assistant professor of physiology in nursing.

Nursing graduate Jessica Tkacs gets a kiss from her mom, Nancy (Nu'75, GNu'77), with dad William (Nu'74, on left) and grandfather William Camenisch Jr. (W'46, on right).

Photo by Candace diCarlo

And at graduation May 16, Nancy and William's daughter, Jessica Tkacs, became a second-generation Penn nurse. She is the fourth generation in her family to attend the University.

Jessica makes it clear that, even though she, too, is a nurse, she's not following in her parents' footsteps.

Her father is a nurse in obstetrics, the clinical care coordinator in the high-risk antepartum unit at Jefferson. And her mother has a Ph.D. in pathophysiology.

But Jessica is interested in community nursing, helping people who might not otherwise get health care at its most basic level.

And now she's got the perfect job - getting paid to do the work she loves with a group of kids she loves.

Jessica is going to run a health camp with a group of children she met last summer, during a summer internship in community health at the Health Corner, a non-profit health center in Southwest Philadelphia at the Larchwood Gardens public housing project. The internship was with the Bridging the Gaps program, an interdisciplinary effort in community health that involves the schools of medicine, law, nursing, dentistry and social work.

Jessica liked her summer charges so much she spent this year mentoring them.

"One of my favorite things to do is work with these children," she said, of the group of sixth- to eighth-grade girls.

The feelings were mutual. The group of four or five grew to a group of 10. "They keep bringing in friends and cousins."

Jessica has a background of travel as the daughter of a Navy brat. She's lived all over the United States, and even in Italy. It's only recently that her family has moved to the Philadelphia suburbs.

She brought that love of seeing the world to the girls of Larchwood Gardens, too, taking them on trips around the area.

"I think I've exposed the girls to something outside of Larchwood," she said. "And if I can convince any of them to go to college, I have done my job, and I really think some of them will."

Jessica also thinks the mentoring has paid off for herself.

"The girls have a certain sense of humor and have a certain outlook on life that's a lot older than they are, and we both learn a lot from hanging out with each other. I respect the children for dealing with the things they have to deal with. I admire them."

She's planning to twist the arms of most of the girls to work for her as counselors-in-training. "I won't have to twist too hard. They like being in leadership roles, and they're used to being responsible for younger children."

Jessica said she is grateful to her parents for their support of her ambitions. After all, they supported her Ivy League education and she has chosen a career where the chief benefit is not financial.

"Above all else, I have been blessed with a strong family and with a privileged background, and I feel I need to give a lot back. There's a lot of disparity in our country, and I want to do my part to correct it."

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Originally published on May 27, 1999