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Marquette University Alumni Association

College of Nursing Award Recipients

Distinguished Alumna of the Year Award

Elizabeth Diercks HallELIZABETH DIERCKS HALL, NURS '51
Flossmoor, Ill.

During Elizabeth’s first pregnancy, she endured a near-fatal case of polio, which left her in a coma for days. When she awoke, she was completely paralyzed and unable to speak, swallow or breathe. Seven and half months later, still severely paralyzed and despite all doctors’ prognoses, she gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby girl.

Because of her experience with almost insurmountable obstacles — lack of proper therapy, acceptance, respect and accessibility — she, with the loving support of her husband, parents, children and grandchildren, was inspired to dedicate her life to making a difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

“Sixty years ago, the stigma attached to a disability still existed. Because of a lack of correct medical diagnosis, the disabled were mistakenly perceived to be weak or incapable of a meaningful life and were embarrassed or ignored and rarely seen in public. The need for accessibility and their well-being was not widely recognized,” says Elizabeth, who learned to walk again with full-length leg braces and crutches and had three more children with her husband, George Russell Hall, Eng ’51.

Undeterred, Elizabeth, her husband and her family set out to ensure that many public buildings were ADA compliant, including Chicago’s McCormick Place, for which she helped architects change their building plans to accommodate people with disabilities. She also worked with former Chicago Major Jane Byrne to make city streets more wheelchair-friendly by adding curb cuts. In Sarasota, Fla., she was instrumental in bringing a successful lawsuit against the city that resulted in more than 400 buildings being retrofit to be ADA compliant.

Elizabeth has spoken to many groups, including the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago, about the importance of making their places of worship accessible. She also wrote and published a book for children, When Someone You Love Dies, and wrote short stories for children, all based on Biblical principles, for a newsletter.

Though retired, Elizabeth is a member of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Center of Chicago and Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors, and she is a leader for the weekly prayer meeting ministries at her parish, Infant Jesus of Prague. She also hopes to help enact a “lemon law” for wheelchairs purchased throughout the United States.

“I have lived the Marquette mission to the best of my ability by volunteering my talents to help others of all ages with solutions for their accessibility and to inspire others to trust in the Lord’s grace, guidance and mercy,” she says.

Fun Facts

Bryant, Wis.

Favorite book:
“The Bible.”

A favorite Marquette memory:
“I met handsome George Russell Hall at a Sigma Phi Delta fraternity party. We married three years later.”

Dream dinner guest:
“Pope Francis.”

Marquette faculty member who had an influence: “Rev. Peter A. Brooks. In fall 1947, I was on my way back to St. Mary of the Woods College. I asked my parents to stop at Marquette. I met with Father Brooks. After talking to him for about half an hour, he suggested I enroll in nursing. He arranged for me to enroll that fall and found a place for me to live because the St. Joe’s nursing quarters were full.
“Miss Durst, a nursing arts instructor. Among other things, she taught us the necessity of improvising. And improvise my husband, family and I did to make our home accessible and to attend the public places that we did.”

Career she aspired to in grade school:
“To be like my mom. She was the dearest, most loving and kind person you would ever meet.”

Most influential person:
“My parents. They exemplified Christian living. Their loving guidance and example taught me the power of prayer and how to help others in need.”

Marquette legacy:
“My granddaughter, Jennifer Hall, is a student in the College of Nursing and is graduating this spring.”