Pioneering nurse Thereasea “T.D.” Elder may be happiest when she is making a difference in someone’s life.
“I find joy every day in encouraging other people,” Elder says. “If it’s going to benefit somebody, I want to do it.”
It is a philosophy she has embraced for more than eight decades, both as a nurse and a community activist in Charlotte.
Even as a child, growing up in Charlotte’s Greenville area in the late 1920s, Elder dreamed of being a nurse and helping save lives.
Enrolling at Johnson C. Smith University, Elder enlisted in the U.S. Cadet Nursing program, an initiative of the U.S. Public Health Service to alleviate the World War II shortage of trained nurses. The largest and youngest group of uniformed women to serve their country, cadet nurses worked in civilian and military hospitals on the Home Front, and in public health clinics.
Following the war, she returned to Charlotte, where she became the first African American public health nurse in Mecklenburg County, serving both African-American and white patients in their homes.
In addition to investing herself in people, Elder invested in her northwest Mecklenburg County community, Rockwell Park, where she and her husband, Willie, built their home from the ground up. She successfully lobbied for water, sewer and paved roads for the community.
Elder officially retired in 1989, after nearly 50 years in nursing. But retirement simply meant not wearing nurses’ attire as she worked to make life better for others. She participated in voter registration drives, worked with hospice, with teen pregnancy and the American Red Cross.
Several scholarships honor her lifetime of service, including one for Rockwell Park residents, one for nursing students and one from the National Association of Negro Business & Professional Women.
Elder is a life member of Calvary Baptist Church. Biography written by Mary Tyler March