Nursing Across the Ages

by Sean N. Bennett

Cleta Fern Johnston



Figure 1. (Cleta Fern Johnston photo obtaineded from son Dr. Jack L. Bennett)

The Early Years

Cleta Fern Johnston was born on July 14, 1914 in the small community of Olean, Missouri, population approximately 214. She was the third of five daughters born to Eugene Meriden and Ada Frances "Fannie" (Morrow) Johnston. Eugene worked for the railroad.

The children born to Eugene and Ada were:

  1. Helen Evangeline Johnston born on March 4, 1911 in Eldon, Missouri
  2. Ruby Olive Johnston born on September 3, 1912 in Olean, Missouri
  3. Cleta Fern Johnston born on July 14, 1914 in Olean, Missouri
  4. Maythl Rose Johnston born on April 11, 1921 in Kansas
  5. Jean Laverne Johnston born on August 16, 1931 in Olean, Missouri

Olean is located 35 miles southwest of Jefferson City (capital of Missouri) in Miller county.

(picture taken from )

The community footprint is 0.17 sq miles (108.8 acres). The community was a railroad town. Laid out in 1881-1882 by the Jefferson City, Lebanon and Southwestern Railroad which later became known as the Bagnell Branch of the Missouri Pacific Railroad. [8]

( picture taken from )

It was originally called Proctor, after James G. Proctor, who was an early settler. The name was rejected because there was another Procter in Missouri. It was then changed to Cove because of its semicircular shape. That name was also rejected because of another similar name in the state. Chester was suggested but again was rejected because there was another Chester on the rail line. Ultimately, the railroad company imposed the name "Olean," after Olean, New York, apparently on a lark, as no documentation survives explaining any reasoning for choosing a city with no connections to the town in Missouri. The U.S. Postal Service also had to agree on the name of the community. [6][7] (Wikipedia)

At the turn of the 20th century, Olean contained a gristmill and a canning factory.[9] The population of Olean in 1914 was approximately 214. The population in 2016 was 131.[10]

The community had a grocery store, livery stables, a mercantile company, a lumber company, a grist mill, grain elevator, blacksmith shop, a restaurant, a drug store, a mortuary, 3 churches and a school. [7]


Cleta began school in Olean. The school was a one room school house with no indoor plumbing. The outhouse (restroom) was located away from the school house.

A typical school day was 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with morning and afternoon recesses of 15 minutes each and an hour period for lunch. "The older students were given the responsibility of bringing in water, carrying in coal or wood for the stove. The younger students would be given responsibilities according to their size and gender such as cleaning the black board (chalkboard), taking the erasers outside for dusting plus other duties that they were capable of doing."[3]

Transportation for children who lived too far to walk was often provided by horse-drawn kid hack or sulky, which could only travel a limited distance in a reasonable amount of time each morning and evening, or students might ride a horse, these being put out to pasture in an adjoining paddock during the day. [3] (Wikipedia)

Cleta had family in Kansas City. She was able to travel on the train the 150 miles to visit. At one point the family was moved to Kansas City. She went to High School there. On Weekends and vacations, she would travel back to see family and friends in Olean. On one of these trips, she met in her words a "handsome young man named Leonard Nathan Bennett". He was returning to Eldon, Missouri to his sister Velda who had married Virgil Ward Templeton Cleta's cousin. Eldon is 6 miles southwest of Olean. This meeting grew from a friendship into a deep relationship.

At the age of 19, after graduating from high school, Cleta married Leonard Nathan Bennett on May 24, 1934 in Kansas City, Kansas.


  1. Compton, Elliott; Education of Rural development;,+with+morning+and+afternoon+recesses+of+15+minutes+each+and+an+hour+period+for+lunch.+%22The+older+students+were+given+the+responsibility+of+bringing+in+water,+carrying+in+coal+or+wood+for+the+stove.+The+younger+students+would+be+given+responsibilities+according+to+their+size+and+gender+such+as+cleaning+the+black+board+(chalkboard),+taking+the+erasers+outside+for+dusting+plus+other+duties+that+they+were+capable+of+doing.%22%5B4%5D&source=bl&ots=FCKxxkMxaa&sig=ACfU3U1whghp15RaiSaE3O3ladAERUSYNQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjprI-7_d7pAhVCKH0KHXsLC5UQ6AEwAHoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=A%20typical%20school%20day%20was%209%20a.m.%20to%204%20p.m.%2C%20with%20morning%20and%20afternoon%20recesses%20of%2015%20minutes%20each%20and%20an%20hour%20period%20for%20lunch.%20%22The%20older%20students%20were%20given%20the%20responsibility%20of%20bringing%20in%20water%2C%20carrying%20in%20coal%20or%20wood%20for%20the%20stove.%20The%20younger%20students%20would%20be%20given%20responsibilities%20according%20to%20their%20size%20and%20gender%20such%20as%20cleaning%20the%20black%20board%20(chalkboard)%2C%20taking%20the%20erasers%20outside%20for%20dusting%20plus%20other%20duties%20that%20they%20were%20capable%20of%20doing.%22%5B4%5D&f=false
  2. "Miller County, Missouri Place Names, 1928-1945 - The State Historical Society of Missouri".
  3. "Olean Community - Miller County Historical Society".
  4. "State and Union: Seeking Out Olean, Mo".
  5. Williams, Walter (1904). The State of Missouri. p. 447.
  6. "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved June 4, 2015.