Husband honors wife’s devotion to nursing education with fellowship

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Grace Merritt

2 min read

Alex Rydel wanted to find a way to remember his late wife in a way that would reflect her generous spirit and passion for nursing and teaching.

He found the perfect solution recently when he decided to start a UConn fellowship in her name. The Gale Rydel Nursing Educator Fellowship will honor her legacy by providing scholarships for graduate students interested in becoming nursing educators.

“Not only is there a shortage of nurses in our country, but one of nursing educators and faculty as well,” School of Nursing Dean Deborah Chyun says. “This fellowship will allow our students to specialize in nursing education without undue financial stress and will add much-needed educators to the profession. It is a beautiful tribute to Gale’s memory, and I am grateful to the Rydel family for their support.”

Gale Rydel ’72 NUR, ’81 MS devoted her life to nursing, first caring for patients at New Britain General Hospital, then teaching when she was head nurse on the medical and surgical floors. She was inspired to enter the profession by her aunt and mentor, Anna Ingram Wolak, who worked at the same hospital.

Later in her career, Gale went on to direct clinical operations at Kaiser Permanente in Connecticut then moved to Cigna Corp., where she worked on quality and accreditation for managed care patients.

Along the way, Gale won several national awards for her work, as well as the Cigna President’s award for her work in improving rates of colorectal cancer screening for people at risk. But her real passion lay in recruiting and teaching nurses.

“Gale was, first off, a teacher. She had one of those electric smiles and eyes that you just gravitated to,” Alex says. “Somehow it seemed that even if there were 30 people in the room, she was talking to you.” 

Dynamic and determined, when Gale set her mind on something, there was no stopping her. For example, she ran six marathons before she blew out her knee on the last one. Then she ran four more, he says. She was also an enthusiastic traveler, visiting 27 countries during her lifetime, including a bike trip through Italy.

Alex first met Gale by chance one day when he drove a friend to a folk mass rehearsal at St. Mary’s Church in New Britain, Conn. Gale was a singer in the group.

“At one point, my friend brought me into the church to listen to the rehearsal and this beauty was standing there. I said, ‘I’m gonna marry her,’’’ Alex says.

Alex asked her out three times and she kept turning him down each time. Undeterred, he asked a fourth time, this time presenting her with a bouquet of daisies. That did the trick.

“Since then, we’ve always had daisies in the house,” says Alex, a cost accountant.

They were together for 49 years, first in central Connecticut and moving to Venice, Florida in 2004. She died in 2020 after a battle with cancer. Her love for teaching will live on with the new nursing fellowship.

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