40 & Forward: Nonprofit Senior Housing

By Tawny Ryan Nelb

Washington Woods Senior Housing

The Midland Area Community Foundation (MACF) celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2013, ushering in a new era of giving and philanthropy. The foundation grew out of the basic human desire to positively impact the world knowing that changing the world starts with changing where we live. It grew out of the belief that individuals can change the community through philanthropic giving. Since 1973, the MACF has been involved in projects that make a difference to the community. One of these areas is non-profit senior housing and the information below gives a brief history of how the MACF and many other organizations have contributed to Midland seniors living better lives.

Societies can be judged by how we care for our seniors. John Hoeven, a current Republican U. S. Senator from North Dakota said, “Caring for our seniors is perhaps the greatest responsibility we have. Those who walked before us have given so much and made possible the life we all enjoy.” The community of Midland has stepped up to support and fund non-profit senior housing for more than 60 years through individuals, foundations, churches, and governmental and civic organizations working sometimes singly and sometimes collaboratively to get the job done.

The critical need for senior housing in Midland was brought to the attention of a committee of King’s Daughters members following World War II. The Midland King’s Daughters Home offered senior housing in eleven rooms in a large frame house on the corner of Jerome and Larkin Streets (the O’Brien house) paid for with rummage sales, card parties, fashion and fur shows and other fundraisers. Members of the King’s Daughters Circle were actively involved in the operation of the Home – cleaning, painting, repairing, maintaining the building as well as canning garden produce and providing dinner casseroles from the very beginning. A convalescent wing was added in 1949. Their facilities for seniors grew again in 1959 with the donation of three and one-half acre plot of land on the corner of Rodd and Nelson Streets from William and Hannah Baker. This was followed by a million dollar gift from Eda Gerstacker of the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation to build the current Alden Dow designed facility with 57 rooms. This privately run non-profit facility has served hundreds of seniors over the decades with affordable pricing.

The next addition to non-profit senior housing was Cleveland Manor. A 1959 White House conference on aging held in Washington, D.C. concluded that one of the first objectives for senior citizens was to provide adequate housing which was defined as: “housing which the aging can afford and which meets their special needs, and which is a part of the community, avoiding the institutional atmosphere.” Dr. Everett N. Luce, chairman of the Midland County Council on Aging along with other committee members explored options for senior housing in Midland and set up a non-profit corporation in February 1965 to build a facility, Cleveland Manor, within a seven acre site between Haley and Eastlawn Streets.

The facility was funded primarily through the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a result of Section 202 of the National Housing Act of 1959 Supportive Housing for the Elderly. The act allowed for direct loans to non-profit developers of elderly housing. Half of the Alden B. Dow and Associates designed structure, laid out in the shape of a diamond, opened in 1968, and the remainder was built and opened to residents in November 1980. Cleveland Manor now has 196 low cost units housing 218 people. Over the years, groups such as the Midland Kiwanis have had a special relationship with Cleveland Manor. They helped with the initial planning, went door-to-door to sell bonds for its funding, provided members for their Board of Directors and donated resources for special projects. The Board has also been served by many other community members with an interest in elderly and disability housing. Funding for major upgrades and alterations has been provided by federal money and the City of Midland’s Community Development Block Grant program but also from grants from the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, the Strosacker Foundation, the Gerstacker Foundation, the Midland Area Community Foundation, among others.

In the early 1970s, the City of Midland saw a still greater need for senior housing for its aging population. As with previous facilities, the rent would have to be low since many seniors’ only income was Social Security. The Rollin M. Gerstacker and Charles J. Strosacker Foundations along with city revenue sharing money provided funding for a 100 unit apartment complex for mixed income independent seniors called Washington Woods named after the vacated city park land it occupied at Dartmouth and Cambridge Streets. A vote of Midland citizens in 1975 authorized the land’s use.

The project was so successful that by the early 1980s a second Washington Woods was needed. The Midland Area Community Foundation coordinated the two year fundraising campaign pooling funding from the major donor, the Gerstacker Foundation, which matched funding from the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, and the Midland, Hearst (in New York), Allen, Barstow and Dow Corning foundations, and the Dow Chemical Company. In addition there were approximately 600 donations from local businesses and churches, as well as many individuals throughout the community to raise the $4.5 million needed for this project. This was a serious collaborative effort. The facility not only provided housing but also meals and health monitoring so critical in the elder years. Resident Katherine Ball commented, “Delighted to have such a secure place. I don’t have to bother my daughter with little things. I feel secure, loved, contented and lovingly cared for.”

Yet, these two new facilities were still not enough to meet the need at a time when there were very few for-profit assisted living facilities in the area and even fewer available for low to middle income seniors. When Washington Woods II opened in 1985, there were still hundreds of people on the waiting list for non-profit senior citizen housing in Midland. Planning for a third facility began shortly thereafter.

In 1989-91, with the theme “The Next Step in Serving Midland Seniors,” the MACF repeated its fundraising coordination role under the leadership of co-chairs Esther Gerstacker and Enrique Falla of the Dow Chemical Company bringing together the financial resources of the major foundations and local citizenry to create Riverside Place on Main Street. The Gerstacker Foundation had purchased the Brown Lumber Company property along the riverfront in 1985 and donated it to the MACF. This property was paired with a three block property along Main Street occupied at the time by Ken’s Crafts, J. B’s Men’s Wear, Collector’s World, Northwood Institute Gallery, Pizza Sam’s and Midwest Auto Parts. The eight major foundations again donated generously with the Gerstacker Foundation donating, $4.4 million. It was their largest grant at that time. Dow Corning, Dow Chemical, and nine churches or civic groups added more funds along with thousands of individual donors. A special contribution came from Midland public and parochial school children who donated $3,162 to the project in pennies earned from home and school projects. One young donor said, “Hauling 400 pounds of pennies to the bank was hard, happy work.” The $13.5 million project was completed in 1993. The Gerstacker Foundation website notes that, “Riverside Place has enriched the quality of life for seniors and helped anchor the rebirth of the downtown area.”

Carl Gerstacker, former head of the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation and one of the visionaries for the Midland Area Community Foundation, commented that the large private foundations in Midland [Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow, Gerstacker, Strosacker, Dow Chemical, and Dow Corning] had major financial resources but not a lot of people while the Midland Area Community Foundation had lots of volunteers but not a lot of money. MACF is able to work together with others if they see a need in the community. Many of the non-profit senior housing projects are example of this type of collaboration.

The mission of the Midland Area Community Foundation is to strengthen our community by providing leadership, fostering collaboration on local needs and issues, and encouraging a legacy of giving through grants, scholarships and events to enrich lives and make Midland a better place to live.

The community is the heart of Midland Area Community Foundation. Every individual, family, business and organization has the opportunity leave their own legacy with a gift of any size. Those who donate to the community foundation are called “members.” These philanthropists are embodying the meaning of the word; they are extending goodwill to their neighbors as they actively promote human welfare in the Midland area.