June Leifson: A Nurse by Nature

After being turned down by three nursing programs at three different universities, June Leifson thought she would never fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse.

“I was turned away because of my speech and my face,” explains June, who was born with a severe cleft palate. “One nursing program head even said, ‘Oh, no, you could never be a nurse with your speech—and your face would frighten the patients.’”

But June’s fighting spirit and determination have enabled her to become not only a nurse but dean of the College of Nursing at Brigham Young University.

Ever since childhood, when she was in and out of the hospital many times for operations, June had wanted to be a nurse. “I saw the compassion of the nurses and the difference a good nurse can make, and I thought, ‘Oh, if only I could become a nurse!’”

After being rejected by the universities, June began taking intense speech therapy. “Listening to my voice on tape almost destroyed me, but I never gave up,” she remembers. Finally, she was allowed to enter BYU’s nursing program on a provisional status, meaning she had to be evaluated every semester to make sure she could “handle it with her speech impediment.”

“I really had to prove myself—be a fighter,” June says. She graduated from the nursing program, worked at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City for almost two years, and then went to Hawaii to work as a nurse.

While in Hawaii, June helped start a Primary in a little shack with a dirt floor. With no lesson manual, June prepared the lessons, using Bible pictures she had drawn herself.

One day, while in Hawaii, she was called in to be interviewed for a mission by Elder Spencer W. Kimball. “It was the most spiritual experience of my life up until that time,” she says. “Elder Kimball said to me, ‘I know you have a speech problem,’ and he told me many personal things about his own problem with his voice and cancer.”

June served a mission in Japan. She found it difficult at first, but she made up a motto that encouraged her: “If you do your part, God will do his part.” She eventually discovered that she could pronounce Japanese more easily than she could English.

After her mission, June earned a master’s degree at the University of Michigan and taught nursing at the University of Utah for six years. She earned a doctorate in family studies at BYU, where she became a faculty member, then director of the graduate program in nursing.

The thought of becoming dean never occurred to June. But one day BYU President Jeffrey R. Holland called her into his office and asked her to be the dean of the College of Nursing. “I was petrified,” June says. “I didn’t know if I could ever do it, but it has been four years now, and I’ve survived. It’s a real challenge, yet it brings me so much joy.”

June receives great support from her family. Her parents and five brothers and five sisters have always loved and encouraged her. The Church, too, has been a great help. She has served diligently as a Relief Society president and as a Young Women president, adamantly refusing to let her speech get in the way of her accomplishments.

“I have never married, and I have no children, yet life has been so meaningful,” June says. Besides her responsibilities as dean, she keeps busy with her huge garden of herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. She loves to travel and has visited Japan, Israel, and the Soviet Union, among other places.

June has worked hard to overcome her handicap. In the process, she has learned to accept herself. “When I was young, I would pray that I would wake up in the morning and be beautiful and my speech would be perfect,” she says. “When I woke up and it hadn’t happened, it was very hard on me.

“Then I finally realized that God wanted me the way I was and that I was all right. I can do a lot of good in this life without being beautiful or having perfect speech.”

[photo] June Leifson didn’t let her speech problem be a problem. She has earned three degrees and is now dean of the College of Nursing at BYU. (Photography by John Luke.)

Amy K. Stewart is a newsletter staff member in the BYU Eightieth Ward, Brigham Young University Seventh Stake.

William R. Whitehouse: Pied Piper of Prevention

William Whitehouse’s program for preventing substance abuse has won him more than honors and recognition; it has won him friends for life. His popularity in and around Cleburne, Texas, has earned Dr. Whitehouse an informal title: Pied Piper of Prevention.

Twenty years ago, before much national attention was focused on alcohol and drug addiction, Brother Whitehouse was interested in providing local high school students with useful information they could share with younger students. “Children are never too young to make choices,” he says. “If we can reach them before bad habits are acquired, it is far better than trying to help them change later in life. Prevention is more effective than rehabilitation.”

It was clear to Dr. Whitehouse that those best suited to provide the information were the very people these youngsters looked up to as examples—high school students. Through his efforts, high school students in Cleburne began going into elementary schools, where they gave talks on patriotism, respect for law, and the problems of tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse.

The program eventually spread from the Cleburne schools to several other school systems in the north central Texas area. It has even gained the attention and support of Rotary Clubs outside the area. Elementary-school students reacted positively, expressing appreciation to their high-school mentors. One child wrote, “I used to think I would try cigarettes when I get older, but I don’t no more.” Another penned, “I love you and will do whatever you say.”

Brother Whitehouse has been officially recognized by the governor of Texas for his efforts to fight drug abuse, and he has also been appointed to the Texas Medical Association’s Special Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. In 1972 he was voted Citizen of the Year in Cleburne, and in 1989 he was honored with a plaque on the Wall of Fame at Cleburne High School, an honor reserved for its truly outstanding graduates.

At seventy-four, this almost-retired surgeon continues to see patients three days a week in his Cleburne clinic, though he no longer does surgery himself.

“People are my life,” says Brother Whitehouse, a high priest in the Cleburne Ward, Ft. Worth Texas Stake. He spends his days with his wife, his children, and his grandchildren and in serving others in his ward and community. He is a favored speaker for people of all religious affiliations, and young and old alike have turned to him for counsel.

“It’s nice to be recognized by individuals and by your community. I do feel honored,” he says. “But, really, the relationships we develop with others are the things of this life that we take with us.”

[photo] Twenty years ago, William Whitehouse was already leading the fight against drug abuse in schools near his home in north central Texas. (Photography by Jed Clark.)

Sandra Spaw Utley, a nurse and freelance writer, lives in Cleburne, Texas.