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The Dash Between: Dixie Slaughenhaupt always asked 'What can I do to help?'

When residents at Amherst Manor nursing home were unable to enjoy Cleveland Indians baseball games on TV, Dixie Slaughenhaupt steered her electric wheelchair to the nursing station to demand the catastrophe be remedied.

“She was instrumental in forming a committee and meeting with administrators to see what could be done,” said Dixie’s neighbor Muriel Koepp.

The former Elyria Memorial Hospital registered nurse also served as an advocate for fellow patients, coach for young nurses and tutor for students at Shupe Elementary School in Amherst.

Dixie, who depended on an electric wheelchair to get around, made sure newer assisted-living residents felt comfortable and unafraid in their new surroundings.

She assisted the nursing staff by watching what other patients were doing when nurses were not around.

“Her RN kicked in even though she was a patient,” Koepp said. “She would oversee the other patients.”

Dixie, who died June 15, 2010, at age 68, told the nurses things like:

“Joe’s not acting right today.”

“Joe’s very confused.”

“Joe’s refusing to eat.”

“Joe did this.”

She also acted as a mentor for nurses at various medical centers.

The Dash Between:

About this feature

The Dash Between is an obituary feature written by Alana Baranick about regular folks from Lorain County and adjacent areas.

Baranick wrote her first obit in 1985 when she was a reporter for The Chronicle. She wrote obituaries for Cleveland’s Plain Dealer from 1992 through 2008.

She is the chief author of “Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers” and director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers. She won the 2005 American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award in the Obituary category.

Today, Alana Baranick examines The Dash Between Jan. 8, 1942, when Dixie Slaughenhaupt was born Dixie Cole in Galion, Ohio, and June 15, 2010, when the former Elyria Memorial Hospital registered nurse died at Aristocrat Berea at age 68.

The Dash Between is scheduled to appear in The Chronicle every other Sunday.

To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com.

Read more:

“At every turn in her hospital stays, she was coaching them at becoming better at what they did,” Koepp said.

Dixie would say: “Even if you’re not in the job you want to be, right now be the absolute best you can be at that job.

“By being the best, you will have learned so much more from the patients and about yourself. If you give your absolute best every day, even though times get rough and patients get grumpy, you will be rewarded in the long run.”

Dixie also volunteered every other Tuesday for three years, helping bolster students’ reading and vocabulary skills at Shupe School. She received the Amherst Schools Crystal Apple Award for that.

She was born Dixie Cole, the eldest of three siblings, on January 8, 1942, in Galion, Ohio, about 15 miles west of Mansfield.

At 5, Dixie was told she had severe scoliosis or curvature of the spine, which was believed to have been caused by undiagnosed polio during infancy.

The condition sent her to Elyria for the first time. She became a patient at Gates Hospital for Crippled Children in Elyria and a first-grade student in the Elyria schools in 1948.

She had three surgeries to fuse her spine and spent most of her two years at Gates in a full body cast. For awhile after going home in 1949, she used leg braces and crutches.

“Dixie was always so sweet and friendly,” said Mary C. Zeller, a classmate at Iberia High School. “And even if she did have polio, it did not hold her back.”

After graduating from Iberia in 1960, Dixie returned to Elyria, but this time as a student at the M. B. Johnson School of Nursing.

Even then, Dixie devoted much of her time to helping others.

“So much of what she did was very quietly,” nursing school classmate Sue Sheidler said. “She helped this person today, she’d call on that person tomorrow, see what kind of help she could give to different people.”

Dixie remained on staff at Elyria Memorial Hospital after receiving her degree as a registered nurse and passing the state boards in 1963.

That same year, she met her future husband, Jim Slaughenhaupt, who worked at Sudro-Curtis Funeral Home.

“A guy I worked with and one of her nurse friends thought we would make a cute couple,” her husband said.

They met on a blind date on Friday, December 13th.

“That's right,” Jim said. “Friday the 13th.”

Luckily, things worked out. They were married June 12, 1965, at First Methodist Church in Elyria.

After the wedding, the entire wedding party visited Elyria Memorial so Dixie could show her wedding dress to her young patients on the pediatric floor.

A few years later, Dixie left her hospital job to raise her two sons, Jim Jr. and John.

She soon became involved with PTAs, youth baseball and lobbying the Elyria School Board and Elyria Township trustees for student transportation and safe walking routes to school in the late 1970s.

She also worked on the township fire levy committee, served as an election poll worker and co-edited the Elyria Township Messenger newsletter.

“She started having problems with balance and weakness in her legs in the late ’80s,” her husband said.

Initially, her condition was diagnosed as Post-Polio Syndrome, but after neurological exams at the Cleveland Clinic, the long-held belief of a polio connection was refuted. Dixie was diagnosed with the Chiari Malformation.

Dixie had two surgeries to reduce the pressure on her brain stem. She was confined to a wheelchair in 2004, but refused to let that technicality get in the way of her doing things she wanted to do.

"Even when not feeling good, she never let it show," her husband said. "I think her most used words were 'What can I do to help?' "

Contact Alana Baranick at (216) 862-2617 or abaranick@chroniclet.com.

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