The memory of a beloved grandmother drives Linda Hunt’s dedication—and gift—to students’ healthcare education
Linda Hunt has never feared getting old.
“Growing up, people used to say to me, ‘You are going to make the best old person,’” laughed the Pacific University professor. “I always felt that way. There’s nothing wrong with getting old. I want to be old like my grandma.”
It was, in fact, Hunt’s grandmother who first inspired her connection with older people, and the career that has followed. Hunt is a professor of occupational therapy at Pacific, where she also founded and directs the interdisciplinary master’s certificate program in gerontology. She founded the Hilda Fine Gerontology Scholarship, named for her grandmother, to support students and healthcare professionals pursuing the online certificate in order to improve healthcare for aging people.
“What seems to be happening in healthcare, new healthcare clinicians graduate from programs and get hired in facilities, and they end up picking up protocols of the facility and following their fellow clinicians in practice, rather than looking at what’s the latest research or what needs to be changed to make this best for older clients,” she said. “That was the purpose in starting the (gerontology) program: to make change in the workplace so older people are getting the best care possible.”
Her inspiration stems from her own grandmother. Hilda Fine was Lithuanian, but her family had to flee persecution there in the 1940s. Her husband and daughter came to the United States first, sending money home so that Fine and her two sons (one who would become Hunt’s father) could come later.
“That made a huge impact on me as a child, that she went through this,” Hunt said.
Hunt remembers her grandmother being very poor, depending on her children for support, but always giving back by caring for children, baking and crocheting.
“She was just this treasure. She was always old, always gray-haired, with wire-rimmed glasses,” Hunt recalled.
Fine died when Hunt was just 7 years old, the lingering results of a broken hip sustained in a fall. Hunt said she remembers throwing a tantrum in her grief and later seeking out other older people to fulfill the role of grandparent.
“What I ended up doing as a child was visiting older people in my neighborhood.
“I started knitting, and we’d sit on the porch and knit or crochet,” she said. “I’ve always had a love of older people.”
In turn, that love has become advocacy for better healthcare for the aging. Hunt started Pacific’s gerontology program, which graduated its first cohort of students in December 2011.
“I tell my students, ‘Treat these older adults like they are someone’s cherished grandparent.’ If you have that picture of that cherished grandparent, it makes all the difference in the world,” she said.
Hunt also started the Hilda Fine Gerontology Scholarship in her grandmother’s name. This past year, the scholarship provided $1,000 each for two occupational therapy students seeking the gerontology certificate.
“These students have used their coursework in the gerontology program to make changes in the settings they’ve partnered with for field work experience,” she said. “That’s what the gerontology program is about. It’s real-world outcomes.”