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Emmanuel turns 50: Dance to Remember at Pavilion June 20

It’s been just shy of 50 years since Emmanuel Nursing Home opened its doors to the public for the first time, as the first senior care facility of its kind in Detroit Lakes.

To celebrate, Ecumen-Detroit Lakes (the parent organization that incorporates not just the nursing home, but the entire senior living campus) is planning a celebration like no other — a real “Dance to Remember.”

“We’re celebrating 50 years, and getting ready for the next 50,” said Janet Green, executive director of Ecumen-Detroit Lakes.

To make this a true community-wide celebration, there will be no cost to attend (though free will donations will be gratefully accepted).

“We wanted to thank the community for 50 years of generous support,” Green said. “That’s why everything is free.”

The festivities begin at 6 p.m. Friday, June 20, in the Detroit Lakes Pavilion, with a classic car show, beach volleyball and a hog roast, followed by dancing to the music of The Shakers starting at 8 p.m.

“It’s going to be one heck of a fun night,” said Sandy Lia, Ecumen-Detroit Lakes’ marketing and fund development coordinator. “We’re going to have a blast.”

Both Green and Lia noted that the nursing home’s staff, residents and volunteers past and present, as well as families of former and current residents, are encouraged to come join in the fun — and swap stories.

“We want to see the faces of the people who have worked here, who have had loved ones living here, and give them a hug,” said Lia, noting that many of the staff, residents and volunteers spend so much time together that they form a close, family-like bond with each other.

“We hope they’ll share their stories with us too,” Green said, adding, “There are a lot of great stories out there from the past 50 years.”

Even the history of Emmanuel’s evolution over the past half-century is a fascinating tale, in and of itself.

Before the nursing home opened its doors in October 1964, there was no other facility of its kind in Detroit Lakes.

Trinity Lutheran Church “had been seeking a mission for their enlarging congregation,” wrote Jon Tibbetts, author of Emmanuel’s 20-year “Living History” book, published in 1984.

“Some churches were expanding their missions to include nursing homes or child care,” Tibbetts added.

With no retirement or nursing homes in Detroit Lakes, and few boarding houses, the community was in dire need of alternatives for the long-term care of its elderly residents — so it was here that the congregation decided to focus its efforts.

A 1960 state survey showed that the lakes area could easily support a nursing home of between 40-50 beds. But initial cost estimates to build such a facility showed that fundraising efforts would have to incorporate the entire town, and a fundraising committee was formed.

After an intense, two-month fund drive where volunteers went door-to-door asking for pledges, and businesses implemented payroll drives to solicit their employees’ support, a total of $165,000 was collected.

“It was estimated that one out of every three adults participated (by pledging money toward the project),” Tibbetts wrote. “Local banks gave $7,000-$8,000 apiece, while other donors added large sums, but it was the average citizen contributing $5 to $100 that made the difference — in money and morale!”

Hubert H. Humphrey and Gene McCarthy helped secure $450,000 in state funding, through a Department of Health, Education & Welfare grant, and the Red River Valley Synod contributed $10,000-$15,000 in architectural fees.

“The Detroit Lakes Water & Light employees had each contributed $100,” Tibbetts wrote. “In those days, that money would have fed a family of four for a month.

“At the end of the successful-two-month campaign, the FHA agreed to provide a loan for adequate capital to build.”

A bid of $784,000 to build a 64-bed facility was accepted, with the plans incorporating wiring and plumbing for up to 104 beds in the future.

Groundbreaking took place on Oct. 24, 1963, with the doors officially opening one year later. The name Emmanuel, meaning “God With Us,” was chosen for the facility, though not without controversy.

“The name’s translation was appreciated by all,” Tibbetts wrote. “However, several people on the board felt that the originally-intended name (Detroit Lakes Retirement Home) would have been more appropriate for the town’s efforts to build the nursing home.”

Within two years of Emmanuel’s opening, a 40-bed addition was planned and built as well.

“It filled up so fast that they added another 40 beds really quickly,” Green said.

Emmanuel’s first administrator, Steve Braseth, saw the facility through that first addition; he was succeeded by Ld Hillman.

“His name was Ld, not L.D.,” Green said — a fact that she remembered well, because Hillman was the father of her college roommate, Diane, who brought her to Detroit Lakes for several visits.

It was during one of her visits to Detroit Lakes that she would meet her future husband, Brad Green, Janet said.

She never anticipated, however, that she would eventually take Hillman’s job. “I was going to be a nurse,” she said.

But Janet Green’s career path eventually led her to become Emmanuel Nursing Home’s administrator, and later, executive director of Ecumen-Detroit Lakes.

“There have been several name changes over the years,” she said, “but the ownership has stayed the same.”

The campus has also been expanded and remodeled numerous times through the years, with the north wing coming after the initial west wing addition.

“That was a special care unit,” Green recalled, adding, “It was one of the first specialty units in the state.”

The special care unit, designed for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other memory-related illnesses, was remodeled in 1997, followed by the addition of the Lamplighter Manor apartments in 1973, and another 40-bed addition to the nursing home in 1979. The campus now includes some individually owned townhomes as well.

The Madison, Forest Conference Center and The Cottage were all added in the 2000s, Green said. But while the campus of Ecumen-Detroit Lakes has grown much bigger physically, every addition has been made “to provide a better living environment,” she added.

Currently, they are in the midst of an $11 million renovation project that will include a state-of-the-art therapy center, complete with a treadmill pool; a wellness center with café bistro, yoga and fitness studio, teleservices and business center, library and more.

“This last project is about getting better, not bigger,” Green said, noting that the nursing home’s capacity has actually been downsized from a maximum of 144 beds to a total of 112 beds.

“We’ve added more private, larger rooms, with private bathrooms,” she explained.

The remodeling will also include “an enhanced chapel and a new, user-friendly, drive-up main entrance,” as well as “better way finding” — or better navigation between different areas of the campus, “so family and visitors can find their way more easily.”

Lia said that Ecumen-DL has also greatly expanded the scope of the services it offers over the years.

“We help people to remain independent and living in their homes longer, through our supportive services like Senior Companions, Helping Hands, and home care,” she added.

“We don’t just build buildings, the buildings are to provide services,” Green said.

The campus is also very pet-friendly, Lia said.

“I brought the first pet here, a dove named coco,” she added. “I had to beg (the board), but eventually they allowed Coco to come live here in the nursing home.”

Green was the one who really embraced the idea of bringing in dogs and later, more exotic pets for visits. Dogs and cats can now live with the residents as well.

“We find pets very therapeutic,” she said, adding that patients in their short-stay recovery care are actually encouraged to bring their pets with them.

“It really speeds up the healing process,” she said.

In short, residents are encouraged to think of Emmanuel as their home.

“There’s a lot of living going on here,” Lia said.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 18-plus years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Detroit Lakes School Board. 

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