Honoring a Legacy: Alumni Association Presents Inaugural Minerva Ryley Legacy Award

No telling of the history of Clarkson College is complete without mentioning the petite and spunky Minerva Ryley. She was a fixture on campus, from her graduation in 1898 all the way into the 1960s when she attended ceremonies and events, all while sporting her original nurse’s uniform, complete with her cap and Maltese Cross badge. Her legacy was cemented in 1910, when she established the Bishop Clarkson Memorial School of Nursing Alumnae Association and began a tradition of dedication to graduates of the institution.

To honor her commitment to the College, the Alumni Association established the Minerva Ryley Legacy Award, which was presented by the Alumni Association to Rita Van Fleet (’67, ’94, ’06) in September 2021 during the Alumni Weekend events.

The award was established to recognize the extraordinary support of a graduate who has had a significant impact on the Alumni Association and the graduates of Clarkson College and Bishop Clarkson Memorial School of Nursing. As a three-time graduate, former employee and lifelong supporter of the College, Van Fleet was a fitting recipient of the inaugural award, which will continue to be presented each year during the Alumni Weekend events to deserving graduates of the institution.

Van Fleet worked for many years at Nebraska Medicine where she served as the Chief Nursing Officer and Vice President of Patient Care Services until her retirement in 2007. In 2008, she joined Clarkson College as the Alumni Coordinator, a role she held until 2020. During her time at the College, she was instrumental in building a relationship between the institution and its alumni. She worked with the Alumni Association Board of Directors as well as graduates of the institution to offer continuing education events and opportunities for alumni to connect with the College community.


In many ways, Van Fleet’s dedication to alumni and the goals of the institution echoes the award’s namesake. Minerva’s deep and sincere love for the training and guidance she received from the Bishop Clarkson Memorial School of Nursing and her instructors led her to establish the Alumni Association. She aimed to promote the training school’s advancement and increase interest in the nursing profession by creating a strong network of graduates who supported the mission of the institution. 

Minerva’s passion for nursing and caring for others was apparent to everyone who met her. Her vivacious personality and dedication to education made her an excellent role model for students and her fellow health care professionals. Students fought for the honor of accompanying Ryley to events on campus, and she used her years of experience to pass on advice and inspiration to future generations of nurses. 

Her legacy lives on through the work of the Alumni Association, an organization that includes all graduates of Clarkson College and Bishop Clarkson Memorial School of Nursing. Led by a Board of Directors comprising of graduates across all programs, the organization provides a voice to the alumni body. It helps lead alumni and the College in new directions, all the while preserving the traditions set forth and embodied by Minerva.