WSSU, Wake Forest honors healthcare legends of East Winston during annual luncheon
Honorees represent legacy of providing care for African Americans
Imagine being sick and having no place to go for healthcare. That was a reality for African Americans of East Winston in the late 19th Century.
In 1899, the twin cities of Winston and Salem had one hospital and it admitted only whites, according to digitalforsyth.org. Simon Green Atkins, who had already founded Slater Industrial Academy (Winston-Salem University today), was determined to provide healthcare to black residents, so he raised the money to do so paving the way for Slater Hospital in 1902.
“On the donated land by RJ Reynolds, the first hospital for blacks in East Winston was built on our campus,” said Guila Cooper, WSSU University Advancement major gifts officer. “Although the hospital closed a decade later, more members of the black community stepped up to start medical practices, hospitals and clinics in East Winston to improve the quality of life for many.”
For the past seven years, WSSU, in partnership with Northwest Area Health Education Center (NW AHEC) of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, honors this history by hosting the Healthcare Legends of East Winston luncheon, said Cooper, who serves on the planning committee.
The event, held on campus during homecoming, recognizes individuals who have made a positive impact on the health and wellness of the residents of East Winston-Salem.
Those honored this year as Healthcare Legends of East Winston included:
- Cathy Canzona, who served as a nursing professor at WSSU for 23 years. She also earned her Master of Science in Nursing degree from WSSU and her doctorate degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro;
- H. Montclaire Creque, a board-certified psychiatrist with subspecialty in neuropsychiatry and behavioral neurology. She was the first African American female psychiatrist in private practice in Winston-Salem and the first African American behavioral neurologist in private practice in North Carolina. She practices at Old Vineyard Behavioral Health;
- Wilbert “Bill” Dillard, a physician assistant who served for what is now known as Winston East Pediatrics. His career spanned more than 30 years, and he remains active in the N.C. Academy of PAs, the American Academy of PAs and Precepting at Wake Forest, where there exists the Bill Dillard Excellence in Clinical Education Award;
- Renee Harrison, a graduate of WSSU, who serves as the Dean of Health Sciences at Forsyth Technical Community College, adjunct faculty for the RN-BSN program at Winston Salem State University, and practices nursing at Atrium Health. She is pursuing her doctorate in nursing education at UNC-Greensboro. She is the incoming president of the WSSU Nurses Alumni Association;
- Cecil Holland, a graduate of WSSU, and a retired professor, associate dean and chief operating officer of the Division of Nursing at WSSU. During his tenure, he also served as director of the accelerated BSN option, director of special projects within the Division of Nursing, interim chair of the undergraduate nursing program, and interim director of the MSN program among other assignments. He led the “RAMS Know How” mobile unit project that brought health care services to vulnerable and disenfranchised communities in East Winston; and
- Barry Williams, a board-certified psychiatrist and board certified in addiction medicine, who was the first African American to complete the psychiatric residency program at Bowman Gray School of Medicine. For 36 years, he dedicated his knowledge to a wide range of populations coping with psychiatric illness and addiction. He was one of the first in the state to develop private practice, outpatient opioid treatment programs. Today, he and his wife, honoree Dr. H. Montclaire Creque, operate the first and only African American private psychiatric practice with programs in addiction medicine, behavioral neurology and psychiatry.
Those honored posthumously included:
- Debra Louise Benbow, a graduate of WSSU in both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She was a family nurse practitioner and owned Behavioral Health Consultants. She was completing her dissertation for her doctorate in nursing at Hampton University at the time of her death;
- Lauritz Creque, who completed his residency in surgery at Kate Bitting Memorial Hospital in Winston-Salem, was on the medical staff there and eventually became chief of staff. He was one of the medical examiners for Forsyth County. He also pursued pathology at Columbia University in New York and held a clinical faculty position there. He is the father of honoree Dr. H. Montclaire Creque; and
- William Hoffler, a dentist, who graduated from Meharry Medical College School of Dentistry, who also dedicated a lot of his time to community organizations. He helped to advance several Black political candidates and was a member of the St. John Laymen’s League.
“Every fall, I look forward to this event because we get to honor pioneers who served East Winston-Salem, North Carolina, many of whom graduated from our health programs at Winston-Salem State University,” said WSSU Chancellor Dr. Anthony Graham.
The one word that resonated from the honorees’ biographies, Graham said, was “genius.” Unleashing the genius is a part of WSSU’s strategic plan, and the best way to create that environment is to surround students with geniuses as this program provides, he said.
“We continue to do all that we can do to honor, celebrate and acknowledge our history. Even when it’s not pleasant, we have to learn from it and make sure we don’t repeat it,” said Dr. Michael Lischke, director of the Northwest Area Health Education Center, whose mission is to recruit, train and retain healthcare workforce for its 17-county region.
“Healthcare is not a job,” he told the honorees and their families. “It’s a life. It’s a lifestyle that takes ginormous commitment, priority setting and lots of juggling.”
The luncheon also recognized nurses in honor of the 70th anniversary of the nursing program at WSSU. A panel discussion with nurses was held that talked about WSSU’s significant nursing history, and the current state of the profession including shortages among students interested in the healthcare field and a decline in nursing faculty members. Dr. Clifton Kenon Jr., class of 2009 and president of the WSSU Nursing Alumni Association, led the discussion.