Moose calls: Celebrating the career of Jeanenne Dallas

Dallas retires after 24 years at the Program in Occupational Therapy

by Michele Berhorst  •  April 2, 2021

Alumna Kim Lorenz, MSOT '07, CPP, owner of Creative Visions Photography, captured Jeanenne Dallas, MA, OTR/L, FAOTA, with her moose herd in 2018.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a milestone quietly occurred on Dec. 31, 2020: Jeanenne Dallas, MA, OTR/L, FAOTA, retired from the Program in Occupational Therapy after 24 years of service. There is an irony in Dallas, affectionately known as JD, having such a non-eventful retirement.

Anyone who knows Dallas knows how much she loves a good party, event or even national conference. Her natural ability to connect and stay in contact with students, alumni, colleagues and friends was never more evident than when Dallas became the recipient of 145 rubber moose that arrived in waves by mail, courier and in-person deliveries to her throughout 2018. Each uniquely decorated moose carried a special message from a former student or colleague expressing gratitude or sharing a memory. “The Moosening” may have started out as a joke, but it ended up becoming the perfect tribute to an educator and therapist who has always followed her heart and not necessarily the rules.

A change of plans

Dallas was born in 1955 in Memphis, hometown of her parents, Jack and Julia Dallas. She was christened “Margaret Jeanenne” because her mother thought “Jeanenne Margaret” did not sound right, but has always gone by Jeanenne. The following year, her father decided to move the family to Little Rock, Ark., to open The Embers, a steak and seafood restaurant. Her mom worked the books and took care of Dallas and her siblings – John, Janie and Jim – while her father ran the restaurant 364 days of the year. “My dad closed the restaurant only on Christmas Day. He was there all the time,” Dallas recalls. “I knew early on the restaurant business was not for me. In high school, I became interested in health care, but not as a nurse or doctor. Physical therapy (PT) caught my attention, and I even did some candy striping at a local hospital to learn more.”

With her degree decided, Dallas enrolled in the University of Central Arkansas, the college that offered the state’s only PT program. Her circle of friends quickly became fellow students preparing to enter various health-care fields, including occupational therapy (OT). After spending time with OT students and faculty, Dallas learned that mental health was becoming more prevalent in the field. “It was the 70s, and inpatient facilities were the norm at state hospitals. Every major medical center had a facility. Because of my grades, I didn’t get into PT school so, with the encouragement of friends and OT faculty, I applied to OT school and got in,” she says. “I was one of nine students. And when you’re one of nine, you’re noticed. When we wanted to skip class, we all had to skip class. I may have instigated that one or two times.”

To graduate, Dallas had to complete three fieldwork assignments. The first was in inpatient psychiatry at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, the second in physical medicine at St. John’s Mercy in St. Louis and the third in inpatient psychiatry at the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic at the University of Pittsburgh. “I knew I wasn’t going to go back to Arkansas, and I really liked St. Louis. I already knew the Sisters of Mercy from grade school. When I did my fieldwork at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center, I lived in their motherhouse in Frontenac for the three months of fieldwork,” Dallas says. “In October of 1978, I got my first OT job at St. John’s in mental health and married my first husband, Steve Blaha, who was an accountant, in 1980. Within the first year of our marriage, he was transferred to Oklahoma City for work, so we moved. I found a job at another Sisters of Mercy hospital there.
It only lasted a year because his job fizzled out, I wasn’t happy and we both missed
St. Louis.”

Moving up and moving on

After moving back to St. Louis, Dallas held several mental health OT positions in various hospitals and within the Barnes Hospital system throughout the mid-80s and 90s. Her daughter, Jennifer, was born in 1984, and her son, Joey, came along a few years later in 1988. Dallas’s job tenures tended to be short so she could take a year off here and there to raise her kids. “I was lucky to find jobs in mental health. I always say I got paid well to talk to people all day long – and everyone knows I love talking!” Dallas says. “I was able to establish a rapport with the most challenging patients, and I really enjoyed working with them.”

From 1991 to 1996, Dallas was the activity therapy supervisor of psychiatric services at Barnes Hospital. She divorced Blaha in 1992 and earned her master’s in health services management from Webster University in 1993. She also legally changed her name in 1998 to Jeanenne Margaret and reclaimed her maiden name of Dallas. Barnes Hospital and Jewish Hospital were in the midst of a merger, and Dallas saw changes happening in health care and at the hospital. “The lengths of hospital stays were getting shorter and budgets were being crunched. Soon, the top-level management jobs were being eliminated, and it was only a matter of time before the middle-level management jobs like mine would be next. I didn’t know what to do, but I started looking around for other opportunities,” Dallas recalls. “I got lucky because in 1996, Susy Stark approached me with a proposition.”

The master scheduler

Program in Occupational Therapy faculty member Susy Stark, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, wanted Dallas to help teach her “groups class” by giving a weekly lecture to students before they would go out in small groups into the community. “I had never taught before, but all you needed at the time was a master’s degree. It didn’t take me long to realize I enjoyed teaching,” Dallas says. “Eventually, a mental health occupational therapist position opened up in the Program’s Community Practice. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was telling my Barnes supervisor, Bette Leventhal, that I was leaving, because I really loved my job. I always say getting a divorce was an easier decision than that was!”

Her new roles were as instructor and clinical specialist, her time split 50/50 between the two. At the time, Community Practice had mental health, pediatric and older adult contracts with various agencies around town. “My first mental health contract was at Shalom House Transitional Housing. Susy had written a grant to start a transition program for women living at the shelter to move to permanent housing. Many of the students were hired as part-time workers, and I fell in love with working in the community. I also found out why many of my Barnes inpatient clients kept coming back. Their lives in the community were chaotic. It was an eye-opening experience,” Dallas shares. “After a faculty member left, I started teaching more of the mental health curriculum. I became a master scheduler to balance my time between teaching, community work and being a single mom.”

The late 1990s and early 2000s brought more changes to Dallas’s professional career and private life. She moved from Shalom House to Community Alternatives in 1998 to fill a new grant-funded position on their Assertive Community Treatment Team. “I was the OT case manager and loved every minute of it. I also had fieldwork level I and II students there year round. Many of them went on to become mental health occupational therapists or they came away with an understanding of what community OT was,” Dallas says. She also found love again with her soulmate, Whitt Lynn, whom she married on February 2, 2002 at 2:02 p.m.

“The very best position”

“I loved working at Community Alternatives and was happy with how things were going, but then Carolyn approached me in 2007 with an idea,” Dallas says.

The Program’s executive director, M. Carolyn Baum, PhD, OTR, FAOTA, had a proposal for Dallas. “At the time, Vicki Kaskutas’s two-year arrangement as academic fieldwork coordinator was coming to an end. Carolyn offered me the job, but it meant adding a third task in addition to my teaching and community roles,” Dallas says. “My skills as a master scheduler were put to the test, and after juggling the three positions, I realized something had to give. After a brief discussion in 2008, Carolyn let me drop the community work and do the fieldwork full-time along with teaching the mental health courses. I hated leaving the agency, but I needed to for my own mental health wellness. It was also time for them to hire their own occupational therapist.”

Dallas described her new role as academic fieldwork coordinator as “the very best position” of her career. “It gave me the opportunity to get to know the students in a different way. I always say I traded a ‘diagnosed’ group for an ‘undiagnosed’ group,” Dallas says. “My experiences raising two teenagers and working in mental health OT prepared me well for the job. I helped students work through their stress and anxieties during fieldwork and sometimes with just life in general! The students who pushed the limits found out quickly there wasn’t too much they could put over on me. I may have dished out a lot of ‘tough love,’ but I always had my students’ backs.”

The position also gave Dallas the opportunity to expand her social network even further by connecting with fieldwork educators from more than 500 sites all over the country. On the national level, she served on the American Occupational Therapy Association’s (AOTA’s) Special Interest Section on Mental Health, their annual Fieldwork Status Report Ad Hoc Committee and the Academic Fieldwork and Capstone Coordinators Academic Leadership Council. Locally, she served on the Gateway Occupational Therapy Council for Fieldwork Coordinators, held several officer positions for the Missouri Occupational Therapy Association and served on many other mental health or fieldwork committees and boards.

Dallas’s appearances at AOTA’s Annual Expo & Conference quickly became legendary. She loved visiting with alumni and colleagues at the Program’s booth on opening night and collecting drink tickets at the alumni reception. In 2015, she had to cancel her conference trip when Lynn went into the hospital. He had been diagnosed two years before with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that affects plasma cells. “I didn’t make conference that year, but my friend, Wendy Starnes, checked me in and got my nametag expecting me to come late. When it was evident that I wasn’t going to make it, she took it everywhere she went and suddenly it became ‘Flat JD.’ Others joined Wendy in taking pictures with Flat JD all over conference,” Dallas recalls. When it made it to the Program’s booth to work her shift, Vicki Kaskutas took it around and to the business meeting, upon Dallas’s insistence, and also to the alumni reception to get drink tickets. “Flat JD closed down the reception. Whitt and I had so much fun watching Flat JD at conference through photos and FaceTime. It helped keep our spirts up during his hospitalization stay.”

Lynn sadly passed away on March 16, 2016 and was unable to see Dallas be inducted into AOTA’s Roster of Fellows at conference that year. Her friend and outgoing AOTA President Virginia “Ginny” Stoffel, PhD, whispered to Dallas while she was handing her the award on stage, “Whitt’s watching you.”

Retirement, but not really

In 2018, Dallas decided it was finally time to retire. She took a phased retirement option available to Washington University faculty by working part-time for her final two years. It gave her time to pass her academic fieldwork coordinator baton to alumna Jessie Bricker, OTD, OTR/L. The Class of 2018 elected Dallas to be the faculty speaker at Commencement. In her speech, Dallas reminded her students one final time that “leggings are not pants” before lifting her regalia to reveal leggings underneath. It was a classic Dallas moment and a fond memory cherished by the Program. When asked what she would like to be remembered for, Dallas replies, “First, I hope I AM remembered! I want people to remember how much I loved being at WashU OT, that I was a team player, a student advocate and a bit of a ‘hard nose’ despite being a softy deep down about the things I cared about most.”

Anyone who has been at the Program in Occupational Therapy for any length of time knows that retirement often means a faculty member is only retiring from their academic appointment. Dallas is no exception; she has gladly taken the role of alumni ambassador moving forward. Expect to see Dallas at the annual alumni reception, conferences and other events in the coming years. Friend her on Facebook so you’ll know when her many travels bring her to your city. And she will happily accept another rubber moose at any time.

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