The 1964 Nursing Home at Maple Lawn—Its Construction and Evolution
The original idea of the Mennonite Home for the Aged was to care for elderly adults who had nowhere else to go. It was the Mennonite answer to the County Poor Farm of which many counties, including Woodford maintained. It wasn’t so much that the “inmates,” as they were then called, were sick or unable to care for themselves, but more likely they were indigent and had no place else to live. Hence, a home for the aged was provided in keeping with the biblical mandate of Psalm 71:9 “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength faileth.” Bearing in mind, that back then most elderly did not live nearly as long as today, and that most Mennonites lived on rural farms, there was not the need for the kind of nursing homes we have today. Often times, a little Gross Daadi haus (retirement home for the parents or grandparents) was built right on the farm where the elderly could live out their days while the younger generations took over the farming and provided care as needed.
While most elderly had some kind of provision, there were always some who fell through the cracks like the first eight residents of The Mennonite Home for the Aged who arrived in Eureka on the train from Rittman, Ohio, where their Home there had burned down.
While the Original Building served the elderly adequately for forty-two years, standards for the construction and operation of facilities caring for the elderly were changing so that the Board and Administration of Maple Lawn had to make plans for a new building which was constructed next to the original building beginning in 1964. The 48-bed nursing home was completed in 1965. This was made possible because of a successful fund drive, a federal Hill-Burton grant and many hard working friends of Maple Lawn Homes.
Originally called Mennonite Home for the Aged, in 1961 the name was changed to Maple Lawn Homes to reflect the fact there was now going to be more than one Home—the new Nursing Home, the Old Building that became known as the Shelter Care Building, mostly for people who could care for themselves but desired communal living with some oversight available (like today’s “Assisted Living”), and a plethora of independent living units, called “Cottages” being built on campus for those who took care of themselves but wanted to be part of a community with social activities and continuum of care.
The new Nursing Home was of modern construction, meeting all the Fire Safety and Construction standards of the day. Its four wings were shaped like an X, all looking into a central nurse’s station where each hallway could be monitored from a single location. In front of the nurses station was a large lobby with a fire place where “residents” (no longer referred to as “inmates”) could congregate for social activities and to welcome visitors.
And while this was all very nice, there were some downsides to the new Nursing Home as former Director of Nursing Edith (Schertz) Hartzler expressed in her 1992 interview with then Chaplain Wilfred Ulrich:
Wilfred: “So you were here at the transition from the Old Building to the New Building?”
Edith: “Yes, in the Old Building, it was a home and there were not that many sick people.”
Edith: “When I started working in 1958 it was still in the Old Building and to me I can still remember that as a home. And, as you get larger and larger you go out of that home atmosphere more into an institutional kind of thing…[In the Old Building] we would take the people down to the dining room and we’d eat together—just a nice family situation—a nice homey situation… It was really a good experience…in 1965 when we moved over into the New Building it was a different situation—more staff…it got to the place we had to have registered people around the clock…the bigger a place gets…you lose that homey atmosphere.”
In the late 70’s with fire safety restrictions growing more stringent, it became apparent that the Old Building could no longer be used to house elderly, even if they were mostly able to care for themselves. So, once again the Board and Administration undertook a construction project, this time, adding a 5th two-story wing to the “new” Nursing Home. The more able bodied residents from the Old Building moved into the rooms on the lower level, and the ones needing more care moved into the upper level. Wing # 5 of the Nursing Home was completed in March of 1980 after which elderly residents no longer lived in the original building. The Old Building was jettisoned off for other uses such as Administrative Offices and an Early Childhood Education Center known as “Noah’s Ark.” In 2009, after 88 years of service, and just 12 years shy of its 100th Birthday, the Old Building met its demise at the hand of a giant backhoe—a sad day indeed.
During the 80’s wings #3 and # 4 of the “new” Nursing Home were lengthened to bring the total capacity to 112.
The enlarged Nursing Home managed its way through the 80s and 90’s but after the turn of the century begin to encounter some heavy head winds. In 2002 Chief Executive officer, Robert O. Bertsche wrote of this concern:
During the summer of 2002 the Illinois Department of Public Aid announced it would cut Medicaid daily reimbursements by 5.9%. In 2001 Maple Lawn Health Center supplemented 47 Medicaid residents’ care costing $595,785. In the first 9 months of 2002 the Health Center [Nursing Home] has served 52 Medicaid residents and we have subsidized the State of Illinois just over $560,000…The State of Illinois needs to set Medicaid rates that cover costs. Currently, the State of Illinois ranks 48th in the Nation in Medicaid reimbursement.
As financial matters for the Nursing Home continued to be challenging over the next decade, The Board and Administration of Maple Lawn Homes found it necessary to find a buyer to take over the Nursing Home and its debt.
In 2016 the Pantagraph reported the following:
Maple Lawn Health Center—with 89 skilled care beds and 23 sheltered care (also known as assisted living) beds—has been sold to Select Post Acute Care LLC, said…Jim Thomason, president and CEO of the Communities of Maple Lawn. Fred Aaron is managing agent of Select Post Acute Care LLC. He is part of a group that owns several long-term care facilities in northern Illinois….”
While it is very disappointing that the Nursing Home is no longer an official part of Maple Lawn Homes, it is good to know that the building is occupied, maintained, and serving our community. The name of the nursing home has subsequently been changed to “The Loft.”
Please join us at Maple Lawn for our Centennial Celebration on July 22 & 23.
Written by Frank Kandel, former Maple Lawn Administrator, current resident, and chair of the Maple Lawn Centennial Celebration Committee