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Graduate M. Blair Gericke's Moravian Roots Run Deep

Direct descendant of College's founder Countess Benigna to receive B.S. degree in nursing

Blair GerickeBethlehem, Pa., May 11, 2011--On May 4, 1742, when Countess Benigna, daughter of the Moravian leader Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf, founded the first boarding school for young women in the thirteen original colonies, she couldn't have imaged that her great, great, great, great, great, great granddaughter M. Blair Gericke would graduate 269 years later from the institution the boarding school would become--Moravian College. Gericke, a direct descendant of Benigna and daughter of Rt. Rev. M. Blair Couch '78, an ordained pastor and bishop in the Moravian Church, will graduate with a B.S. degree in Nursing on Saturday, May 14, 2011.

Gericke, a "nontraditional" student who never imagined that she would attend Moravian, will receive The St. Luke's Hospital Award for Nursing Practice Excellence from the College. The award recognizes clinical education and practice excellence in the Moravian College - St. Luke's Hospital partnership. The recipient selected by the nursing faculty is determined on the basis of the most outstanding student performance in demonstrating nursing practice excellence and professionalism. "Blair is truly a wonderful student, rock solid in every regard," said Kerry Cheever, professor and chair of the Nursing Department at Moravian. "The Zinzendorfs would be so proud of her! She is one of our top students, receiving one of our two graduating senior awards."

Her story is more than one of genetic lineage; it is also one of hard work and determination. "When I graduated from William Allen High School in 2000, I had no intention of attending Moravian or any other traditional four-year college," Gericke said. Instead she entered Northampton Community College and obtained an associate's degree in culinary arts. After graduating, she worked for a time while also caring for her disabled younger sister, Rachel. After the birth of her son, Cameron, in 2004, "I decided to go back to school to become a Certified Nursing Assistant, which would allow me to obtain medical benefits," she explained.

Eventually Blair decided to pursue a bachelor's degree in nursing and, after reviewing the available programs in the area, decided on Moravian. "Moravian had the best program, and scholarship support, so I enrolled in 2007," she explains. Gericke attended full-time, while also working part-time and raising her son, Cameron, as a single mother.

"I am really thankful for those who give to Moravian to make it possible for students like me to get a great education," Gericke said. "I received significant financial aid and scholarship support which made Moravian affordable for me."

On Sunday, the family will celebrate Blair's graduation with a party--several of the attendees, including her grandmother, will come from Winston-Salem, N.C. Gericke says she never had much interest in ancestry, but does think her family history is "neat" and looks forward to telling her son about it, one day.

Gericke will prepare to take the board exams to become an R.N. In the meantime she will participate in a graduate nursing internship at Lehigh Valley Hospital, beginning in June.

Marian Blair Gericke is a direct descendant of Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf and his daughter, the Countess Benigna von Watteville. Benigna's founding of the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies in 1742 is counted as its founding date by Moravian College. Her mother Rt. Rev. M. Blair Couch '78 serves as a teaching associate for Moravian Theological Seminary. Couch's family has been involved in the other streams of tradition that have flowed together to make up the modern-day institution. Among those in her family tree are the Rev. Paul de Schweinitz, men's college Class of 1884 and a president of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church in America, and the Rev. Edmund de Schweinitz, who served as president of Moravian College and Theological Seminary from 1867 to 1885. In all, more than a dozen members of Couch's family have attended Moravian. A bequest in 2008 from Gericke's great uncle Charles D. Couch is the largest single gift in the College and Seminary's history.

"A review by Moravian History Professor Heikki Lempa resulted in a renewed appreciation of Benigna Zinzendorf as the true matriarch of Moravian College. Certainly we hold up Comenius, but the foundational spirit of the historical institution really is best credited to the Zinzendorfs, Benigna in particular," noted David Bennett, president, Moravian Church, Eastern District, and former chaplain at Moravian.

Moravian College is a private, coeducational, selective liberal arts college located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Tracing its founding to 1742, it is recognized as America's sixth-oldest college. Moravian partners with students to build a strong foundation for their future. Visit the College's Web site at www.moravian.edu. For more information on commencement at Moravian, visit http://www.moravian.edu/studentLife/commencement/