Penn State College of Medicine Alumni Update

How Did She Do It?

The Story of Lois Forney, First College of Medicine Graduate

Lois Forney

Lois W. Forney, M.S. '69, works in the laboratory.

Several years ago, when the Graduate Program at Penn State College of Medicine was looking to name its new alumni honor society for a distinguished graduate, the choice was a no-brainer: Lois Forney, first graduate of the program and the College. Today, at their 30th reunions, all College of Medicine graduate alumni are inducted into the Lois W. Forney Society.

"She did what we hope all our graduates will do—take the education they receive and go do lots of interesting and different things," says Michael Verderame, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate studies. "She was an educator and professional in so many different ways."

Forney's long and varied career included a stint with the Pennsylvania Department of Health as a chemist researching the best methods to sample industrial toxicants in stream water and fish tissues. She also taught nurses, sold homes, and for nearly nine years at the end of her career, served as a grants and contracts officer for Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

Forney, who passed away in September 2012 at the age of 82, entered Penn State in 1967, the same year the first medical class entered the college. Extremely bright, she graduated two years before that class, in 1969, with a master's degree in physiology. When she entered the graduate program she was already an instructor of nursing chemistry at the Harrisburg Hospital School of Nursing (which had been affiliated with Penn State). She continued to teach there during her studies and afterwards through 1973, when the school was affiliated with the Harrisburg Area Community College.

In her late 30s while she attended the College of Medicine, she was also a wife and mother of five children. With help from her mother, she cooked and also handled her family's finances. "Running a family of five children, teaching, and going to school would be difficult for anyone," says one of her daughters, Lisa DiGiorgio, of Seattle. "But my mother was very organized and also a very assertive, determined person, someone who wouldn't take no for an answer. When she wrote to Dr. Morgan, the chair of the physiology department, seeking admission, she would have persisted if he had said ‘no.'"

One of Forney's main motivations for earning her master's degree was to enhance her credentials so that she could publish a textbook for nurses and other students in the allied health sciences. "She wasn't satisfied with the books she was using to teach nursing students about the human body," says her husband Ed, (B.S., mechanical engineering, 1950), who was the director of development engineering for AMP Inc. "That's why she ultimately wrote her textbook"—Chemical Principles of Life, which Prentice Hall, Inc. published in 1978. Eight years later she also contributed a chapter to a textbook for medical students, Burnside's Medical Examination Review.

Following their retirements, the Forneys traveled widely, including trips to Africa, Egypt, and Russia. With Mrs. Forney serving as his trusted navigator, Mr. Forney piloted their single-engine Cessna to their beach home in North Carolina and even across the country, to their daughter Lisa's wedding in Seattle. Mrs. Forney also belonged to three bridge clubs and loved golfing.

Several years ago, Forney and her husband endowed the Lois Weninger Forney Nursing Excellence Award, which provides a $1,000 scholarship to practicing nurses to further their education. The fund has grown significantly over the years, from supporting one scholarship when it was established in 2008 to funding a dozen nurses this past year.

"Having taught nurses, she always felt that they never got any of the credit that they deserved," explains her husband. "I think the school has done a wonderful job honoring her legacy."