Burchill discusses Ave Maria at SCMMThe front porch of the Stutsman County Memorial Museum was an apt venue for Tim Burchill’s chat about the history of Ave Maria Village.
The front porch of the Stutsman County Memorial Museum was an apt venue for Tim Burchill’s chat about the history of Ave Maria Village.
The Lutz Mansion was owned by the Lutheran Hospital and Home Society (LHHS) and operated as a home for the elderly, ambulatory and non-ambulatory, from 1938 to the early ’60s. The lack of an elevator, handicapped accessibility and the loss of the steam heat plant in Jamestown made it impractical to continue in that capacity.
After World War II, there was a push for nursing homes due to a longer life expectancy: More people were living into their 70s and beyond, but families were not always able or willing to care for elderly relatives, some had to go a long distance away from their former home for care and some ended up in “poor farms.”
Burchill described Reverend W.W.A. Keller as a “mover and a shaker” and gave him credit for coordinating the fund raising efforts toward the building of a new facility for care of the elderly, in the late 1950s.
The LHHS then created Central Dakota Nursing Home Incorporated under Keller’s guidance. A 22-acre area in the northern part of Jamestown, owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was chosen for the site. This was a largely undeveloped area east of the new Jamestown Reservoir with plenty of room for expansion. Burchill stated he is very grateful for that foresight.
In the summer of 1959, the Central Dakota Nursing Home Campaign Committee met above Hawkins Drug and began their fund drive. Their original estimate of the amount needed for the project was around $650,000 and the federal government provided a Hill Burton Grant of $260,000 the remainder to be provided by the LHHS.
Burchill stated the cost was close to $1 million by the time the project was complete.
Local architect, Gill Horton, came up with the innovative wheel design with a nurses’ station as the hub of the original building. Due to later expansion, the café is now the hub, with neighborhoods A, B, C and D radiating like spokes outward from the hub.
The task of fundraising was successful, and groundbreaking began in November of 1960. By May of 1962, the project was substantially complete and the open house and outdoor dedication took place on Sunday, May 27.
Burchill stated it was a big deal: State and local dignitaries came to the event, the Jamestown College Choir sang, and the Elks Band played.
B.R. Just was the first administrator — Coincidentally, his grandson now works as a CNA at the Heritage Center. Bob Munson was administrator for many years, but Burchill credits Alex Schweitzer with the vision for the Heritage Center.
Schweitzer enlisted the aid of the Lindbergs and Dean Anderson, along with some other developers. The Heritage Center of Jamestown Corporation was created as a facility to provide its residents more independent living with shared food services, a chapel, entertainment activities, etc. with the nursing home. Burchill stated the two nonprofit entities are financially separate despite the shared services that make it more economical for both.
At one time, there was a plan for several independent-living four-plexes, like the one just east of the nursing home. However, due to financial hard times, Burchill stated, only the one was built.
In the 1990’s, LHHS merged with another non-profit and became Banner Health. It ran five homes and some hospitals until 2001, when Banner Health wanted to suspend operations in North Dakota.
It approached Sisters of Mary of the Presentation, in Valley City, because it wanted to sell to a nonprofit. According to Burchill, Banner Health accepted $8 million less than the original asking price, because they knew the Sisters of Mary had the community’s best interests at heart.
This year is the 10th anniversary of ownership by the Sisters of Mary, but the name change from Central Dakota Village to Ave Maria Village took place in 2008. Burchill stated there was some concern that the new name, which means “Hail Mary,” might seem too Catholic for some Protestants, but people were actually very receptive to the name.
When Burchill began as administrator of Ave Maria Village, five years ago, he said it was a period when they were desperately short of staffing and did “contract nursing.” He stated employees would sign a contract to come from out of town to work at Ave Maria, because the pay was good, but these employees would only stay a short time and didn’t always have the best interest of the residents or facility at heart.
That plan was abandoned in favor of “crazy” sign-on bonuses and overtime hours for local nursing staff. Burchill stated that these moves were successful. The work is hard and staffing will always be challenging but staff retention has improved, and more importantly, patient care has benefited.
As Ave Maria Village celebrates its 50th anniversary, it is also anticipating the expansion of the facility. Burchill showed photos and sketches that will meet three specific needs: The new chapel that will be attached to the south side of the existing building will free up the Barthel Room, which is currently used as a chapel, activity room, meeting room, etc.
A drive-through garage for transport buses and private vehicles will allow drivers and passengers protection from the elements during loading and unloading. A new “end of life” suite will provide amenities for comfort to the patient and family members going through that most difficult time.
On Sunday the Front Porch Chat will feature Niles Mueller. Mueller was instrumental in recognition of the historic sites for Jamestown’s 125th Anniversary celebration. He will be talking about some of those sites and why they have historic significance.