On October 14, 2012, the two Willow Ridge houses (Betty House and Frieda House) were dedicated. Willow Ridge is licensed as a skilled nursing facility, but designed to be a home for our elders. From the fireplace in the great room to the open kitchen, Willow Ridge promotes that sense of home while the elder, family members, Shahbaz (caregiver) and nurse work together to create a household of love and support.
Now, in October of 2022, we celebrate 10 years of operation. While we appreciate the innovative buildings that have allowed Willow Ridge to implement a new way of caring for our elders, what we really celebrate is the success of a pioneering way to care for older adults, and the blessings of life and relationships that have come as a result.
Dr. Bill Thomas, the founder of the Green House model that Willow Ridge was based on and is still affiliated with, once said that “Every home has a story.” While the Willow Ridge story is now 10 years old, it still feels like the beginning. It all started in 2004, when then MHCO CEO Lynn Thompson and a core group of staff traveled to Tupelo, Mississippi to see the first Greenhouse Homes, which adopted a “culture change” philosophy and granted greater elder choice in their care. The smaller floorplans with just 10-private rooms in each building fostered a less institutional environment. In 2005, the land across the street from Maple Crest had come available – an ideal location for expansion. The same year a feasibility study was completed, resulting in the eventual kickoff of the largest capital campaign in the history of MHCO – the $2 Million A New Vision: Transforming Elder Living campaign in 2007. On October 14, 2011 a ground blessing took place with a crowd of 175 present to celebrate construction groundbreaking. Construction took one year, with an October, 2012 dedication. On November 26th, the first two elders, Phyllis Osborne and Kate Konst, moved into the Frieda House and enjoyed a home-cooked meal with the staff – beginning a tradition that lasts until today.
The namesakes of the Betty and Frieda Houses are Betty Bash and Frieda Basinger. Betty had lived at the Mennonite Memorial Home for 25 years, and was visited almost every day by a member of her family. She was chosen as the namesake of the Betty House because she and her family were proof of the value and importance of family relationships – a foundational philosophy of the Green House model of care. Frieda Basinger had moved away from Bluffton for nearly 70 years, but still felt a strong bond that was evident when she began to send gifts to the elders of MHCO in 2006. She and her late husband, James’ commitment to Bluffton was demonstrated after her passing in 2009, when an estate gift of over $1,000,000 was made to be shared equally between Bluffton University and MHCO. This gift was a huge boost to the New Vision campaign, and was a testament to Frieda’s commitment to make elders’ lives brighter.
Today, the construction of the buildings and groundbreaking ceremonies seem like a long time ago, but the ideas they created still feel fresh, and make a difference in the lives of the elders and families we serve. Many elders, family members and new staff members are still surprised at the model when they come to visit, and quickly appreciate how it promotes personal decision making and flexible daily routines.
We celebrate elders who have been with us since the beginning: Irene Hall
- We celebrate the team members who have been with us since the beginning: Heather Clum (Director of Nursing), Annie Spallinger, Wendy Sutherly, Kris Russell, and Sherri Carmack.
- We celebrate the elders, staff, community members, donors, and business partners that have contributed to make this dream become a reality – there are too many of you to list!
The world looks much differently than it did just 10 years ago, and while it is impossible to see into the future, the future is surely different thanks to the introduction of the Greenhouse model of care. MHCO looks forward to continuing to be at the forefront of senior care by providing solutions to the care needs and wants of the coming generations.