In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

November 14, 2019

Surprise Party for 85-Year-Old Nurse Who Shows No Signs of Slowing Down (or Retiring)

By In the Loop

Donna Alger has been a nurse for more than 60 years, the last 14 in Mayo Clinic's Pre-Operative Evaluation Clinic. Her colleagues recently helped her celebrate her 85th birthday.


For all our differences, one of the things that unites us is our desire to live a long and healthy life. And while some claim to have found that cheat code through chocolate, cheese puffs, vodka martinis, coffee or staying single, Donna Alger has found it in a much simpler way: waking up every morning with gratitude.

Gratitude that for the last 14 years of a nursing career that's (so far) spanned more than six decades, she's gotten to come to work at the Pre-Operative Evaluation Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. "Gratitude is No.1, but being able to come to this stimulating, caring, supporting environment … how could you not do well?" Alger recently told Arizona's Fox 10 News of her job as a nurse at Mayo Clinic. It's a job that Alger says goes a long way toward keeping her 85-year-old body and mind moving. "I feel I'm blessed every day," she tells the station. "And I'm humbled by my patients. I am so grateful to be in this caring environment.'"

And working alongside a leadership team who Alger says not only has the best interests of patients in mind, but also those of her and her colleagues. "Administration here, from Dr. (Richard) Gray to my supervisor to my team leader, gives us adequate staffing so that we can do the care so that when you go home you don't have burn-out, you feel like you've done your job," she tells Fox 10.

Alger's colleagues gave her another reason to be grateful this summer when they helped her celebrate her 85th birthday with a surprise party. It didn't take much to get the unsuspecting honoree to the party, since Alger planned to work that day just like any other day. We're told Alger's supervisor, Tammy Cheney, went all-out by planning a surprise birthday bash befitting of a woman who's spent 63 years caring for others.

"The breakroom was festooned with flowers, congratulatory signs, and a cake imprinted with the message, 'Donna 85 years and the legend continues,'" Lynn Closway, of Mayo Clinic's Department of Public Affairs, tells us. "When Donna was ushered into the room, she was stunned to see so many colleagues and the effort they'd put in." So stunned, in fact, that Closway tells us the first words out of Alger's mouth were, "I would have fixed my hair!" 

Fixed hair or not, we're told there was even a second party for those unable to attend the first, including one very special guest: Mayo Clinic in Arizona CEO Richard Gray, M.D. "It was an incredible moment, seeing Dr. Gray come in," Alger says. "I knew he was very busy." 

Not too busy, however, to help celebrate someone who's given six decades of her life to a career in patient care, with no foreseeable end in sight. "This place is the exception to the rule — we value patient care here — I find that happening every day," Alger says of what keeps her coming back to work. "I can't see not working. I tried crafts. I find that I don't do crafts well. I will know when the time comes for me to retire. And I will know that I have been blessed to work here." 

As blessed, perhaps, as all those who have had the good fortune to work alongside her.

You can read more about Alger and her storied career here. Then surprise us by sharing your comments below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.


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Tags: Donna Alger, Dr. Richard Gray, Employee Stories, Mayo Clinic in Arizona, Nursing

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