Delores Wilkins, one of Milwaukee community’s cherished members, passed away on December 21

January 28, 2021

Delores Nicholson Wilkins was born in St. Louis, MO December 26, 1929, to Thomas White Nicholson and Viola Comer Nicholson. As a family, they moved to Quincy, IL in 1932. From Quincy, IL they moved to Milwaukee, WI in 1944. Delores graduated from North Division High School where she excelled in band (clarinet and bassoon), science and math. After graduation from North Division High School in 1947, she applied for nursing school and was accepted at three schools in Milwaukee. At that time, black students were only accepted if there were two of them to share a dorm room. It would have been impossible to place a black student in a dorm room with a white student. Mt. Sinai School of Nursing offered her a room by herself, so she accepted. An only child, Delores happily accepted this arrangement and today credits her upbringing for never feeling lonely or singled out.

She graduated from Mt. Sinai School of Nursing as a registered nurse (RN) in 1950. Delores was the first student of African descent to complete their program. As a matter of fact, she was the first black graduate of a school of nursing in Wisconsin. Being a lifelong learner, she then went to Planned Parenthood and became a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner in 1975. She received her BSN from Alverno in 1976, and then her Master’s Degree in Nursing from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 1992. She went on to become an obstetrics and gynecology nursing supervisor at Mt. Sinai Hospital where she had spent most of her nursing career.

In a bold move, she left her career at Mt. Sinai Hospital and went to work as a nurse practitioner in the office of Dr. Milton Gutglass. Her popularity among the patients caused her to become an essential part of his practice and the compensation was commensurate with her significant training, experience and responsibility. When Dr. Gutglass retired, Dr. Suseelah Budarahpu, whose office was across the hall from Dr. Gutglass, asked Delores to come and work for her. She remained with Dr. Budarahpu for five years. When Delores finally retired from office work, she did not retire from nursing. She became a parish nurse through a program offered through Marquette University and served in that role at Calvary Baptist Church for many years. She also worked as a nurse examiner at the Sexual Assault Center at Mt. Sinai (which by then was called Aurora Sinai Medical Center).

Before and after she was the Parish Nurse at Calvary, members trusted her medical know-how and particularly her absolute respect for their personal privacy. As Parish Nurse she developed health programs in collaboration with other health-related organizations in the community, organizations that met the needs of women and children.

Delores was involved in several community activities, including the Walnut Street Days, and she was a founding member of the “RENS,” a service organization of black registered nurses, whose purpose was to encourage young women of color to enter the nursing profession. The RENS were the precursor of the current Black Registered Nurses Association.

Delores and her family have been members of Calvary Baptist Church in Milwaukee since 1944. She has participated in and led many of the ministries within the church including being a longtime member of the choir. She was a strong Christian woman, attended various Bible study classes and though she was biblically astute, she never flaunted her knowledge. Her sense of humor and ability to tell good, clean, absolutely funny jokes made her a joy to be around and sometimes was featured at special activities. It was Delores’s Calvary mission circle that annually provided personal care kits to local service organizations that met the needs of women and children. For years, she was the camp nurse at the American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin summer camp at Camp Tamarack.

Friends and acquaintances marveled at her determination to maintain her own physical fitness. She had a healthy lifestyle and kept herself in strong physical condition by going to the YMCA five days a week for weight training and lap swimming. In her 80’s she was also a marathon runner and won several times in the senior category.

Delores was married to Robert Wilkins until his death in 2006. She was the primary caregiver to her parents, Thomas and Viola Nicholson, until their deaths. She leaves to mourn two children, Carl Thomas Savage and Karen Marie Bradley, four grandchildren, Janice Marie Savage, Floyd Jamal DeBow, Jamila Romelle DeBow and Kimberly Denise Bradley. She was the proud great-grandmother of Austin Thomas Davis, Aaliyah DeBow, Carrington Davis, Brittany DeBow and Lailah DeBow. She also leaves a legacy of many godchildren and informally adopted children on whose lives she made quite an impact.

Delores touched the lives of so many friends and relatives in Milwaukee and the world. She has traveled to Africa three times to do medical mission work. Delores drove friends to medical and other appointments and always served as a patient advocate for them until her illness. She was truly loved and admired by all who knew her.