By Rev. Ed Stanton
As we talk about changes at Wesley Homes Des Moines, I have a question: “How many old folks does it take to change a lightbulb?” The answer is: “CHANGE?!”
My family has been watching Wesley Homes change for over 60 years. Dr. Stanley Logan had the dream, found the land and, with the help of Methodist churches and individuals throughout the Pacific Northwest, raised the money to buy the property and build the first wing of the Wesley Gardens building. A number of cottages were built around the campus, and in 1954, the building was dedicated and residents began moving in.
That was also the day that Dr. Logan stepped back, and my dad, Willard Stanton, became the administrator. Wesley Gardens was a pioneering Continuing Care Retirement Community. The unusual early growth of Wesley Gardens drew many delegations from other denominations and organizations to learn about this new type of home for older folks. Dad traveled widely to tell the Wesley Gardens story and to warn others of potential problems in starting a new retirement community.
Soon the Gardens building was full, and the waiting list was four to five years. More cottages were built, and the north wing of the Gardens building and the Health Center wing (now the administration wing) were added. Later more property was purchased, and the Terrace was built. Then Wesley bought the Lutherans’ Good Samaritan Nursing Home next door to meet the needs of Wesley residents and others from the community. Under the leadership of Walt Higgins, Wesley View was built. Wesley Homes got out of a financial hole by emergency financial help again from Methodist churches–raising more than a million dollars (all of which had been repaid in full!) and by the Reagan administration settling Wesley’s FHA loans for 58 cents on the dollar.
A footnote to this story is that my dad took me to talk with Walt about buying the note and paying off the debt for less. I took the information back to Alaska Pacific University, where they had a similar debt, and the information saved a number of private colleges millions of dollars!
The property Wesley Homes Des Moines is built on had once been a blueberry farm. For a while, part of the property was used to raise a few cattle to help lower food costs. That idea didn’t last long, but residents also helped with costs by helping to set tables or having a corn shucking party. The first residents were younger then and were enthusiastic participants in the life of this new venture.
The campus and ways of living here have changed. Times were more formal in our early days. Dad was “Mr. Stanton”, and he always used last names in greeting people. It was “Good morning, Mrs. Forsythe,” or “How are you, Mr. Smith?” I’m glad Kevin isn’t just “Mr. Anderson” or Alex “Mr. Candalla”. Men wore ties to dinner, and wheel-chairs or walkers were only used in the dining room in temporary situations. They didn’t want this new institution to look like “just another old folks’ home.”
Over the years, residents have initiated so many activities. For instance: Roma Tukey produced dramas at The Gardens, Faith Callahan stirred up shuffleboard competitions at The Terrace, Paul Beeman and Art Brown produced and built our in-house television station under the management of Joan Zatloukal and the “Grapevine” resident newsletter (I think it began with my father) has been published creatively for many years by many people.
Other changes have come through the years. There was a time when cottagers had to move into the building when they reached age 85. Some folks had really strong objections, but my mother-in-law came before that was in the contract. She was “grandfathered” into remaining in her cottage until she chose to move into the building. We now also allow pets to live in the cottages and in the buildings.
I’m grateful that Wesley Homes works to keep the campus and the buildings current. When my father-in-law died in the middle of the night, my wife and her mother had to walk downtown to a pay phone to notify off-campus relatives because no outgoing phone service was available on campus at night. The constant upkeep and updating of the buildings is expensive and can sometimes be difficult to implement, but these are necessary changes. Our 60-plus year old campus is aging just like the residents, and sometimes a hip needs to be replaced. So it’s another time for change – it always is, and this time it’s a big one.
For some of us, the groundbreaking was something like a memorial or funeral service for the homes here. Just think of all the people who have lived in the cottages. Imagine if the cottages could tell the stories of the fascinating people who have lived in them and their times with family and friends.
Sure, Wesley Homes Des Moines is changing, but the spirit of the community will remain. Our daughter, who is nearing 60 years of age, said that Wesley Homes has always been the constant in her life, almost a hometown for her. When our son heard about the renovation of the campus, he told Kevin, “Don’t change a thing!” He remembers one resident, a family friend, taking him to the roof of The Gardens building and teaching him about gravity as they dropped some blossoms over the edge. The swing out in the gardens was always one of the places our family enjoyed visiting on campus. We don’t like change, but sometimes change is necessary and ultimately good.
To rebuild an existing retirement community campus is a revolutionary, pioneering challenge, and our residents see that changes are necessary to appeal to the future generations to come. Some of the buildings are 60 to 70 years old. For the folks who will have to move, perhaps twice in the process, the prospect of the change is daunting.
But we Wesleyans are more ready for change than some of us expected. One resident’s license plate read: “EQL 2 IT.” Change isn’t always easy, but we’re willing and confident.
So, how many older folks does it take to change a retirement home, to accept new realities, new needs? We’re old enough that we’ve been through a lot of changes in our life, and if necessary, once again, we’re equal to it!
“Change is the only constant in life.” ~Heraclitus