By MARILYN TINNIN
Ginnie Ingram spent 11 years teaching Anatomy and Physiology to hundreds of Jackson Academy high school students. They would probably all agree she was one of the hardest teachers they ever had. They would also probably agree she was one of the very best, not just because she knew her subject, but because she had a unique way of motivating, encouraging, and stretching them to accomplish more than they dreamed they could.
It is a tribute to her faithfulness to her students, and to her God, that so many went into the medical field and mention Ginnie when asked, “How did you choose medicine?” In addition to the 45 or so who chose to be physicians, there were even more who chose a health-related field like nursing, dentistry, or physical therapy. In one UMC Medical School freshman class in the early 2000s, 10 of the 100 students were “Mrs. Ingram alumni!”
Dr. Philip Chustz, interventional cardiologist with Jackson Heart Clinic, is among them. He says he does not underestimate the impact she had in nurturing his decision to practice medicine. “I will forever smile as I remember Ms. Ingram’s animated lectures teaching difficult topics to high school students. But perhaps equally, if not more, I will remember her ability to intertwine her faith and example into her lessons.”
Those who know Ginnie best smile when they reiterate her outstanding personality traits. She loves people and she is completely selfless. Whether she is nursing, teaching, or being a wife, mother, or grandmother, she is totally engaged. Her love and her desire to help others succeed are genuine. But a love like the kind Ginnie displays for others would never have happened apart from a few upside-down moments and the amazing grace of the Lord she loves.
It was a warm June evening when 12-year-old Ginnie Walters of Laurinburg, North Carolina, was watching television, and a much younger Reverend Billy Graham was preaching. This little girl who had been in Sunday school her entire life, understood in a way she had not understood before that she needed a personal relationship with the Jesus that Dr. Graham knew. She prayed the prayer as the television panned the stadium to reveal streams of men, women, and children, coming down the aisles to pray that same prayer.
Ginnie’s heart was forever changed. She had much to learn, many challenges ahead, but she had “sealed the deal,” and she never came to a point when that moment was any less real. When future crises or challenges came, and they did, she never doubted that her deliverance was anywhere apart from the God who won her heart on that summer evening.
There was an earlier “defining moment” in Ginnie’s life that would also become a big factor in her future. She suffered a serious bout with pneumonia when she was six years old. One particular nurse’s kind and capable demeanor so comforted Ginnie that she told her mother she had decided to become a nurse when she grew up. She never faltered in that decision.
Although Ginnie was an only child, her mother was one of nine siblings, and that extended family unit of seven uncles and one aunt were an additional strong support system. Ginnie spent the majority of her childhood summers in East Tennessee visiting her “Aunt Girlie,” who was a schoolteacher. She took Ginnie under her wing and became a spiritual mentor. In between the delightful days and weeks of farm life, which included such novel chores as driving tractors and milking cows, “Aunt Girlie” managed to subtly communicate eternal truth in a way that whetted Ginnie’s appetite for more.
By the time Ginnie was a high school senior, she was well grounded in her faith, firm in her commitment to go into nursing, and knew exactly what kind of man she would marry who would, of course, share her every value and live “happily ever after” according to plan.
The Plan in Real Time
Ginnie met Glynn Ingram before she had even graduated from high school. He was a student at North Carolina State when they found themselves working side by side over Christmas break at the Laurinburg Department Store. Every time there was a lull in customer traffic, Ginnie, Glynn, and his twin brother, Lynn, found reasons to swap stories.
It was the next summer before Glynn and Ginnie had an official date, but four months after that first date, they were engaged. Glynn graduated with a degree in industrial engineering and took a job with General Telephone and Electronics in Durham, while Ginnie pursued her nursing degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
She completed nursing school and worked first in the trauma unit at Duke University Hospital. The hours were long; the work was grueling, and when Ginnie became pregnant with her son Brad, her health began to suffer. Her obstetrician insisted she find an environment that was less stressful. She was offered a position in the intensive care unit of Durham County General Hospital. It would be a better situation for her pregnancy and for her family after the baby’s birth. Ginnie’s first teaching experience came while she was there. It was meant to be a temporary duty filling in for someone else who was on maternity leave.
“I found out I loved teaching. My nursing students would come in to work with my patients and me, and I just loved teaching them about what to do and why you would do it this way instead of another way. I love the human body. It’s a miracle and I love teaching about it.”
Ginnie was soon offered that position permanently. It seemed like the best of both worlds. She was honing her nursing skills every day and training eager students to love nursing as much as she did.
Trials and Detours
Life did seem to be unfolding according to Ginnie’s plans and dreams. Her relationship with the Lord was strong, her marriage was good, and she was anticipating the birth of her baby boy. A few months before John Bradley Ingram’s arrival, Ginnie woke up in the middle of the night and had a heavy and foreboding sense of evil surrounding her and threatening harm to her baby. She immediately began to pray and to recount aloud the authority of Jesus Christ over demonic forces. You will never convince Ginnie that such a thing did not happen. She knows that it did, and she knows, too, that after what seemed an eternity that ominous spirit was replaced by the peace that only God can supply.
A few weeks after that incident, Ginnie suffered a stroke, and her doctor advised that for her own wellbeing, they should deliver the baby early. She refused and did manage to carry the baby a few more weeks thinking his lungs needed to develop a little more. She was fully awake, took no anesthetic, and will never forget the anxious moments following delivery when there was no cry from her baby boy.
She heard a voice from behind her head say, “Doctor, it’s been four minutes!” The voice came from a respiratory therapist who had worked with Ginnie in the intensive care unit and happened to be there simply because he was her friend. He knew exactly what to do and had the skills to do it in nanoseconds. Had he not been there—who knows? Coincidence?
Ginnie’s story is too packed with such coincidences for her to be anything other than totally certain of God’s great faithfulness and abundant love and grace.
Brad Ingram not only survived, but he excelled in all things academic. The thought registered with Ginnie many times how fortunate and miraculous it was that Brad seemed to have suffered no ill effects from that shaky beginning. However, when he was 16 years old, while at school—the school where his mother was teaching—he had a serious seizure, and yes, it scared his parents to the moon and back. But even now, Ginnie tears up as she describes how God used that for good.
Brad Ingram completed medical school (yes, he is one of those students his mother inspired to the medical field) and chose the rare specialty of pediatric epilepsy. His entire journey, like his mother’s, has been a study in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you…plans for good and not for evil…” as well as a living testimony of the truth of Genesis 50:19. So often what seems to be Satan’s ploy for harm turns out to be something God redeems as a positive.
Ginnie and Glynn welcomed a daughter into their family just 17 months after Brad’s arrival. Amy Elizabeth Ingram arrived without the drama that had characterized her brother’s birth. She was hale, hearty, and strong willed from the get go. She made their family complete.
Ginnie went back to nursing. She loved being a mother and she also loved taking care of her patients. Glynn was not as happy with his career. When a job opportunity presented itself in Memphis, Ginnie was completely on board with making the move.
Things went awry almost immediately. Glynn’s job did not turn out to be the panacea he had anticipated. In the meantime, Ginnie had enrolled at the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences. She completed her master’s degree, graduated number one in her class, and had a specialty in cardiac care. She immediately had a rush of attractive job offers.
Their marriage took a hit of seismic proportions. Her career was on fast forward. His was on hold. They joined a church and they were active, but it was not a place where the Word of God was emphasized. Ginnie was starving for something more.
Tensions were high in the Ingram home. Lots of arguing. Lots of temper. Lots of everything that nobody ever dreams will happen to them in the starry-eyed moment of newly married bliss. Ginnie could certainly not believe this was happening to her storybook marriage.
She was on her way home from work one day when she heard a spot on the Christian radio station. Another local church, Second Presbyterian, was having a series of sermons on “The Christian Family in Crisis.” That pretty well described where her family was at that moment. She decided then and there that come Sunday morning, she would be at Second Presbyterian with Brad and Amy in tow. She hoped Glynn would come, too, but things were so bad, she could not predict.
Ginnie was certain of just one thing. The anger was so toxic. The issues had become so deep that God—and God alone—would have to put their marriage together again.
Restoration and Starting Over
To Ginnie’s surprise, Glynn, albeit reluctantly, came along with her and the children that first Sunday morning, and then the next, and the next. It was clear there was something different and very lifegiving in the Sunday school classes, the worship services, the other young people they were thrown with. Gradually, God did put this little family back together.
Ginnie, who had been adamant about finding a church that taught Scripture and believed it as truth, discovered that all the problems in their marriage were not Glynn’s fault! A new humility replaced the blame game when they began to pray together. It was impossible to pray and be mad at the same time! The difference in their home was palpable. Their children were happier. There was laughter for the first time in a long time. Ginnie and Glynn were completely surrendered to putting the Lord at the center of their relationship and at the center of all they would do from that point on.
“And we have been married 40 years now,” Ginnie says. “We still pray together every morning. We pray with our kids. We pray with our grandkids.” If she had one nugget of advice to couples it would be to pray together. She cannot think of one aspect of the marriage relationship that does not grow stronger because of that willingness to be totally vulnerable with each other and with the Lord.
Because Glynn had been unhappy with his job in Memphis, they began to look around for other opportunities. A fresh start brought them to Mobile Communications (later Skytel) in Jackson.
A New Niche
Over the next few years, Ginnie taught in the nursing school at Mississippi College, spent a lot of time being a mom to Brad and Amy and a wife to Glynn, contracted and recovered from a debilitating case of Epstein-Barr Syndrome, and then stumbled upon a brand new career by accident. Confident that her stamina had returned, she was planning to return to nursing when she received a call from then Headmaster Peter Jernberg asking her to consider teaching Anatomy and Physiology. It was a last minute plea of sorts since school was about to start.
Ginnie never dreamed she would absolutely fall in love with teaching high school students. However, her background in the medical field opened up a whole new concept in high school A&P. Her methods gave new meaning to the words “hands-on experience!”
She instituted the Medical Mentorship Program through the Jackson Academy Pre-Med Society. For every student with an “A” average at the end of the third nine-week session, Ginnie set up an all-day experience with a medical mentor in the field of their choice. Ginnie says, “Students got to see all types of medical procedures; one even rode with an ambulance on a Saturday night,” and she laughs, “That one probably took a year off my life!”
Dr. Chad Hosemann of Capital Orthopaedic Clinic in Flowood was also one of those fortunate students. Ginnie arranged a day with Dr. Gene Barrett, longtime JA Team Physician and doctor at MS Sports Medicine. Dr. Hosemann says, “This early exposure to orthopaedics was a major factor in my decision to pursue a career in medicine and Orthopaedic Surgery.”
Ginnie was constantly brainstorming creating teachable moments that inspired, as well as provided value beyond the classroom. She brought in speakers, including the Director of Admissions for the UMC Med School on several occasions. Another of Ginnie’s traditions was the ultimate field trip, a tour of various parts of the UMC Medical School. Part of the tour included viewing and holding a human brain and spinal cord!
The Legacy That Meant the Most
Ginnie did have the great opportunity to teach outstanding students who went on to awards and accolades in their select specialties. But the most notable thing in Ginnie’s classroom career was Ginnie and the way she tuned in to every student.
Dr. Hosemann says, “Mrs. Ingram had a true passion for teaching students about the miracle that is the inner workings of the human body. Through her subtle expressions of her Christian faith in the classroom, she had a unique way of helping her students understand that the human body was not just a random organism, but an incredible machine designed by God.”
She did indeed have a heart for all of them—the “A” students as well as those who struggled. She cared, and her methods are worthy of mention for anyone who aspires to impact young people.
One of her priorities had nothing whatsoever to do with Anatomy and Physiology but it just demonstrates how Ginnie was invested in her students. She and Glynn went to every (as in E-V-E-R-Y) football (and almost every basketball and baseball game)—at home and away—for YEARS. They are, indeed, sports lovers, but it was more about encouraging her students than wanting to drive two or three hours to watch high school athletics.
She sheepishly adds, “And I could yell my G-U-T-S out—and they loved it.” (As one who witnessed Ginnie’s enthusiasm, I agree. She was definitely a VOCAL fan!)
“But I would write them notes and encourage them in every way I could,” she says. “And I would challenge them. I would encourage them. I would love on them, and I would look them in the eye and make them look me in the eye. When I saw them struggling, I would call them in and ask how I could help them.”
And then, there was this final biggie. “I would pray for them. I don’t know that I prayed every day for them,” she modestly says, “But before every test, before every quiz I prayed for them. I prayed for total and complete recall so that they…I was praying for them as a teacher but then I prayed for them—because I really cared.”
And What Next?
Today Ginnie and Glynn enjoy a winding down season of life. Glynn is the chief information officer at Trustmark; Ginnie spends a lot of time being “Nanna” to three precious grandchildren; Caroline (8), Parker (6), and John Harmon (10 months). They also spend lots of time in Oxford where they plan to retire in a few years.
Ginnie gives a lot of thought to her “legacy,” as she remembers those in her family—her mother, father, “Aunt Girlie,” and others who nurtured her faith. They, in their day-to-day lives, showed her that Jesus was real and gave her something that she, in turn, gave to countless students as well as her own children.
She may be intentionally thinking more about her legacy these days, but she has spent decades creating one simply by serving her Lord with her whole heart in the very place He placed her. There are many who consider themselves blessed to be a part of that legacy.