ALUMNI HALL OF FAME PROFILE:

For Charlotte Brandt, public service “makes her life worthwhile”

Charlotte Brandt has become a face of the nonprofit Links for Life.

Charlotte Brandt, a longtime nurse and philanthropist, has become a face of the nonprofit Links for Life, which provides services and support to breast cancer patients. She will be inducted into the CSUB Alumni Hall of Fame in February.

BY CHRISTINE BEDELL
Alumni Engagement Specialist
cbedell1@csub.edu

Charlotte Brandt still remembers the Mountain Mesa couple who in their 70s received a phone call they weren’t prepared for: “We have this 18-month-old in Arizona, can you take custody?”

It was the woman’s grandson, and his mother was in jail. Christopher was also autistic. He screamed all the time. He was up all night. He ran away when people tried to hug him.

Brandt was on the team that assessed Christopher’s needs and got him into the KCSOS Infant Development Program. Over the years she received updates on the boy, learning he’d transitioned into his home school – an ideal placement – and was being raised by his aunt in the Bay area.

“It was a great example of introducing early services to help a better outcome,” Brandt said. “That’s what we were all about.”

Seeking out and helping children like Christopher was Brandt’s life’s work for 39 years as a public health and school nurse with the Kern County Public Health Department and then Superintendent of Schools office.

Her assignments took her to every corner of Kern County. She treated illnesses, taught parenting skills, ran clinics and worked on a team that assessed kids’ overall health and welfare in order to connect them with the right educational services.

Along the way Brandt mentored school nurses, spearheaded a program to keep teen moms in school and led numerous child welfare boards.

In retirement, Brandt has continued to educate and care for others as a volunteer with Links for Life, a local nonprofit that promotes breast cancer awareness and provides services to patients. She herself is a survivor.

“She really loves making an impact,” said Brandt’s daughter, Allison Brandt Oliver. “That’s what brings her not just joy, but makes her life worthwhile.”

‘ABLE TO TALK ABOUT ANYTHING’

Brandt was born in Atlanta and moved to Bakersfield at age 11. Her dad was a general surgeon at Mercy Hospital, her mother a television star. She’s the oldest of three daughters.

Charlotte Brandt  as a child in Atlanta.

Charlotte Brandt is the daughter of a surgeon and a southern belle, as she puts it. Here she is as a child in Atlanta.

When her mother needed a last-minute guest on her KBAK movie and interview show, she’d have Brandt come on to talk about student nursing or how to train a dog.

“It gave me life-long skills of being ready at a moment’s notice and being able to talk about anything,” Brandt joked.

Brandt attended St. Francis and Garces Memorial High schools. She always wanted to be a nurse, in part influenced by her father, who’d watch films of surgeries on a bedroom wall at home to learn new techniques.

“My two younger sisters would say, ‘eww!’, but for some reason I was always in there with my dad,” she said.

The Sisters of Mercy ran a nursing program for women at the otherwise all-male University of San Francisco, so Brandt moved there for college. It was a grueling program, and those who “survived” still get together today.

Brandt has been the women’s “communications hub,” collecting and sharing their personal news and helping organize their regular reunions, said classmate and friend Kathy Farrell.

FIRST LINE OF MEDICAL CARE

Brandt returned to Bakersfield after graduation in 1965 and went to work for the Kern County Public Health Department. She’d drive out to Buttonwillow in her county car – which had no radio and no air conditioning – and serve as the nurse for Kern’s west side.

Charlotte Brandt earned bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1965.

Charlotte Brandt earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of San Francisco in 1965. This photo was taken during her freshman year.

She and two public health aides who lived in the community ran well-baby clinics, treated communicable diseases and checked on mothers who’d had difficult deliveries at Kern Medical Center. She also taught inexperienced parents how to care for their infants.

“They were basic life skills, when you change a diaper, when you introduce foods,” Brandt said.

Brandt was also the school nurse for several westside districts, giving menstruation talks, conducting vision and hearing tests and making home visits. The community was a great training ground for a young nurse, Brandt said, and she learned as much from it as it did from her.

In 1976 she became a supervisor overseeing the work of about a dozen nurses in eastern Kern County, who were nurse/heath educators in their communities.  

“They relied on the public health nurse as the first line of medical care,” Brandt said. “Families would call and say, ‘Can the nurse check the rash?’ or ‘My child got injured over the weekend and so I put a Band-Aid on it. But could you have the nurse check?’”

To stay on as a supervisor, Brandt needed a master’s degree. So she and three other nurse colleagues enrolled at CSUB.

Brandt would work from 8 to 5, race home to settle her kids, then jet to CSUB for night classes that sometimes extended to 10 p.m. She also had to get through five grueling core classes at the beginning of the program, one that once sent her home crying in frustration.

Brandt earned her master’s degree in health care administration in 1980.

“We had a lot of laughs, some tears, but we all graduated,” she said. “That’s what you did if you wanted to get ahead.”

‘NOT ALWAYS IDEAL’ CONDITIONS

Full-time school nursing started looking good to Brandt when her own children were school-aged. So in 1980 she joined a new Kern County Superintendent of Schools team that assessed the health, educational and social needs of struggling children and then worked with their parents and home school district to develop an educational plan for them.

Charlotte Brandt at Infant Development Program

At the Superintendent of Schools office, Charlotte Brandt was part of a team that evaluated and found services for children with severe health and educational challenges. Here she is with a student at the Claude W. Richardson Center Infant Development Program around 1989.

Brandt was the nurse on the team, which also included a social worker, educational diagnostician, speech and language specialist and psychologist. She often made the first point of contact with parents in their homes, trying to assure them she was a “helper” simply interested in learning what they wanted and needed for their kids.

“Some of the homes that we had to go into, and the conditions under which we assessed, were not ideal by any means,” said Sandy McMahan, a speech and language specialist who worked with Brandt.

Homes were sometimes trailers in the middle of nowhere. Some homes had no electricity or running water or phone service. Parents sometimes lacked transportation or struggled with English.

Nobody was more effective than Brandt at reaching out to these families and, because she’d lived and worked in Kern County for so long, finding them services, said Rita Pierucci, a speech pathologist on the team.

“She was just extremely compassionate,” Pierucci said. “She made parents feel that they were valued, she assured them about their parenting skills, because we would go into some fairly impoverished homes where children had great needs that maybe their parents didn’t have the financial resources to meet.”

In one of those homes, according to a story relayed to Pierucci by a colleague, a mother offered to make Brandt a cup of Tang, a drink made from water and flavored powder that probably was not one of Brandt’s go-to beverages.

Brandt glanced at her colleague and said they’d love some Tang, and after finishing it reacted as if it was the best thing she’d ever tasted.

“Charlotte just exudes warmth and compassion and really feels everyone deserves dignity,” Pierucci said.

ADVOCATING FOR SCHOOL NURSES

As Brandt’s depth of experience grew, she became more involved in professional organizations such as the California School Nurses Organization. During her tenure, which included a stint as president, she taught members locally, statewide and nationally how to advocate for more nurses in schools.

Charlotte Brandt shakes hands with then-state Assemblyman Phil Wyman.

Charlotte Brandt shakes hands with then-state Assemblyman Phil Wyman upon accepting California School Nurse of the Year honors in 1989.

Brandt taught school nurses how to gather statistics showing how much work they did, present findings at school board meetings, and invite school board members to job-shadow them.

“That was during a time when there were lots of budget cuts in education and if you didn’t advocate for yourself, you very well may not have a job and then the children lose out,” said Debbie Wood, who recently retired as school health coordinator for the Bakersfield City School District and was inducted into the CSUB Alumni Hall of Fame in 2018.

“She was always a champion for making sure that students got the right kind of care and when they don’t have a school nurse, they miss out on a lot.”

Before LISTSERVs were popular, Brandt also created a statewide email network for school nurses that came to be known as “Charlotte’s Web.” Nurses sent questions to Brandt, who then forwarded them to the group and collected answers and re-sent them to the nurse.

For all she accomplished, Brandt was named California School Nurse of the Year in 1989 and Kern Registered Nurse of the Year in Leadership in 1999. She was inducted into the Academy of Fellows of the National Association of School Nurses and the Central San Joaquin Valley Nursing Hall of Fame in 2004.

ADVOCACY AFTER RETIREMENT

Two years after Brandt retired, on a winter day in 2006, Brandt felt a lump in her breast. It was Stage 2B cancer. Her treatment included a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, radiation and five years of anti-hormone medication.

“That’s a fairly typical journey for many women, and some men,” Brandt said matter-of-factly.

 This photo was taken during Charlotte Brandt’s battle with breast cancer.

This photo was taken during Charlotte Brandt’s battle with breast cancer, which led to her becoming involved with the nonprofit Links for Life. Links named her volunteer of the year in 2017.

Anticipating losing her hair, Brandt visited Links for Life to get fitted for a wig. Since then she’s become a strategist for and face of the nonprofit, which educates the community on breast health, funds mammograms and ultrasounds, runs support groups and fits patients for wigs.

“Because she’s an educator and because she’s in the healthcare field, it became her passion to educate and help others and bring people in to receive assistance from Links,” said Executive Director Jennifer Henry.

Brandt brings people in to be fitted for wigs, helped open a second wig boutique and aided in establishing an endowment to cover operational costs so all fundraising dollars can fund programs, Henry said. She recently allowed her face to be displayed on local buses advertising Links’ many services.

“She’s a face that people recognize,” Henry said. “And it’s like, ‘OK, I’m a survivor, you also can be one too if you’re diagnosed.”

Charlotte Brandt advertising Links for Life.

Charlotte Brandt was one of three women chosen to have their faces displayed on local buses advertising Links for Life.

Brandt has also been a longtime member of the Junior League of Bakersfield, a women’s organization that promotes volunteerism, raises money for community projects and teaches leadership skills.

Her participation has paid countless dividends communitywide because she has shared skills learned there with members of the many boards and councils on which she’s served, McMahan, a past president, said.

Among the most notable projects Brandt spearheaded with Junior League was the Parenting and Childhood Enrichment program, which helped teen mothers stay in and graduate from high school. It provided daycare services and parenting training.

“That was near and dear to her heart,” McMahan said. “She likes projects where we really can go out and make a difference.”

That includes through scholarships. Brandt chaired her family’s Brandt Scholarship Foundation committee for many years before turning it over to the CSUB Foundation to administer.

CAN’T SIT STILL

Brandt and her husband, homebuilder Bob Brandt, met through friends in high school while cruising Chester Avenue.  They got married two years after graduating from college.

Her friends say Brandt was largely able to juggle career, master’s degree, community service and family because she had a supportive husband at home.

The Brandts in 1976 (l to r): Allison, Bob, Charlotte and David.

The Brandts in 1976 (l to r): Allison, Bob, Charlotte and David.

In addition to their daughter, Allison Oliver, the Brandts have a son, David, who lives in Whitefish, Mont. Each of the Brandts’ children has two sons.

Brandt still seems to fret that she wasn’t home enough when her kids were young. Oliver says she and her brother indeed were “latch-key kids,” but their mother was always just a phone call away and it taught them self-reliance and how to be a good working parent.

The first words Oliver used to describe her mom were “affectionate” and “encouraging,” saying she always followed the motto of treating others the way she wants to be treated.
One thing Brandt does to show affection is give gifts, Oliver said. Every time she travels, whether to Italy or Santa Barbara, she brings something back for everyone.

“You knew that if she was gone, she was thinking about you,” Oliver said.

The Brandts and Olivers in Maui in 2015.

The Brandts and Olivers in Maui in 2015 (l to r): David, Jack, Tory and Hayden Brandt; Bob and Charlotte Brandt; Brandt, Allison, Scott and Jacob Oliver.

And she’s an “experience-oriented” grandmother. During the holidays she always took the grandkids to CALM to see the Christmas lights and made gingerbread houses with them. Brandt even did that two years ago when David’s boys were 16 and 18, Oliver said.

“Mom cannot sit still,” she joked. “That’s not in her plan of daily life.”



CSUB Alumni Hall of Fame

Charlotte Brandt is one of four people who will be inducted into the CSUB Alumni Hall of Fame Feb. 15, 2019, at Seven Oaks Country Club in Bakersfield.

The other members of the 2019 Alumni Hall of Fame class are Jeff Huckaby, Tom Corson and Gene Tackett.

Learn more about the gala, including sponsorship opportunities.