ALTON – As political upheaval raged in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, Zdenka Chytil had already made her escape to Alton. The Czechoslovakia native started her nursing career at Alton Memorial Hospital on Nov. 16, 1989 – one week after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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Now known as Deny Manning, she retired April 10 after 35 years on the Medical Care Unit at AMH. It’s a long way from Czechoslovakia, where Zdenka grew up with four siblings in a Communist regime.

“It was normal for us growing up,” Deny says. “We weren’t rich, but we certainly weren’t poor either.”

Zdenka, her then-husband Stanley Chytil and their young son Albert spent two years in Austria waiting to obtain Visas so they could move to the United States – although it wasn’t necessarily the escape you might expect.

“I actually didn’t really want to move,” Manning says. “I was a bit apprehensive about it since I didn’t know any English at the time.”

Stanley Chytil’s uncle lived in Alton then. So when the family finally was able to move (with about $200 and a couple of suitcases filled with basic necessities), they moved into a house on West 9th Street in Alton, where the rent was $150 a month.

Her first job in Alton was at the Ursuline Convent taking care of the nuns, who helped teach her English. A social worker, Kay Mueggenberg, served as Deny’s sponsor and advised her to take a hospital job. Deny had been a nurse in Czechoslovakia but had to step back a bit here because of the language barrier.

Deny did not have a car when she first came here,” says Debbie Turpin, AMH chief nursing officer. “At times I would give her a ride home after work or else she would have walked home.

“Deny was an RN in her country, but the language barrier was a struggle to take the RN nursing boards, which she needed in order to get her RN license in the United States. She hired into AMH and worked as a patient care tech at first, and she was one of the best techs we had.”

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Manning’s knowledge far exceeded the patient care tech role, however.

“I worked at Alton Memorial on the weekends and during the week took LPN classes at the J.B. Johnson Vocational Center in Alton,” Manning says. “I had been a general nurse for eight years back home, and all of this was quite an adjustment as I learned the language, too. It was hard. There were times that I wished I could go home. But not because of anything at Alton Memorial. Everyone was always very good to me here.”

Manning passed a test by the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools in 2005. The CGFNS ensures that nurses and other health care professionals educated in countries other than the United States are eligible and qualified to meet licensure, immigration and other practice requirements in the U.S.

Manning finally passed her state boards in 2006, putting her back to the RN level where she was in Czechoslovakia (which split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993).

“As an RN, she was right where she needed to be.” Turpin says. “Her life has changed so much since she first arrived, and I admire her. Her willingness for a better life amazed me. She will be truly missed!”

“Learning the language took quite a while, but everyone teaches you,” Manning says. “They make fun of it at times, but they still help you. You learn a new language any way you can, listening to people and watching television. Albert was getting a lot better at English than we were.”

Deny has been with Scott Manning for 22 years and they have been married for five years. Albert is now 45 years old, lives in Dallas, has degrees in Chemistry and Biology, and has given Deny two grandchildren. Scott Manning has been retired from Olin for three years.

“I went from working three days a week to two, and the past year I was working one day a week,” she says. “I didn’t want to go cold turkey; I enjoyed being with my co-workers too much. But I’m looking forward to more Zumba and yoga, plus I’ve started acrylic painting. We also have a garden and a greenhouse.”

“The next time I’m at Alton Memorial I might be a patient,” she says with a laugh. “No, I will come back to visit and bring some cookies with me. I would miss everyone too much if I didn’t. I loved everyone here.”

As the MCU manager, Amy Toenyes has been Deny’s manager since 2008. Toenyes says she can’t begin to count the number of patient compliments Deny has received in that time.

“Patients remember Deny for her attention to detail, the quality of work she does, and the compassion she has for the art of nursing,” Toenyes says. “We will miss her on MCU for sure, but I am so very happy for her plans to enjoy her retirement!”

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