Huge turnout for Timbers openingPublished 5:45pm Sunday, July 18, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
A huge turnout on a hot day July 16 was indicative of the inclusive approach Atrium Centers of Columbus, Ohio, took in rebuilding the former Dowagiac Nursing Home.
Many shocked community members took it personally when it closed abruptly three years ago.
With a large local advisory board and former employees back in uniform, many already feel ownership in The Timbers of Cass County.
And many more have either heard about or glimpsed the obvious exterior transformation from E. Prairie Ronde and desired a closer examination of the state-of-the-art, 108-bed skilled nursing care and rehabilitation facility.
Mayor Donald D. Lyons was joined at 4 o’clock by politicians and civic leaders for a blue ribbon-cutting during the busy five-hour grand opening.
Visitors parked at such a distance that they were ferried to festivities by golf carts and shuttle buses while police directed traffic.
Lyons recalled how Dowagiac “suffered through the loss of the previous facility. This has all made it come right. With a little luck, I might be here myself someday.”
John Kasper, pastor of First United Methodist Church, expressed gratitude for those who saw such potential and acted on it.
“This is a wonderful place,” agreed Dowagiac’s state Rep. Sharon Tyler, R-Niles, pinch-hitting for state Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks.
Also present was state Rep. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, a candidate for Jelinek’s seat, Cass County’s other lawmaker, state Rep. Matt Lori, R-Constantine, who arrived right after the ribbon-cutting, and Robert Ziliak of Milton Township, chairman of the Cass County Board of Commissioners.
Tyler, who said she visited Dowagiac Nursing Home a few times, hailed the 25 jobs created in the first four weeks, with more to join the team, and called the “reformed” facility a “bright star on a bright, sunny day.”
Tyler thanked Atrium for “investing in and being here for us.”
Atrium Chief Operating Officer Jason Reese commented, “This is a very, very special day for us. The community has been warm in welcoming us and we will work to maintain that trust.”
The Deal family turned out in force.
Sharon Harnden of Dowagiac serves on the community advisory panel.
Her granddaughter, Kirsten Novak, was singing in Jeff Robinson’s Union High School choir.
Joining them were Sharon’s brothers, Charles (Dixie) Deal of Edwardsburg, James (Noel) Deal of Albion, Kenneth (Betty) Deal of Greendale, Wis., and Robert (Jane) Deal of Grand Rapids.
“I’m glad to see Atrium including the city and surrounding area,” said Harnden, a 1960 Dowagiac graduate who also attended the wet, windy groundbreaking on Friday, Oct. 30, 2009.
Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Owen E. (Lucille) Deal bought I-Deal Nursing Home, which started with a farmhouse, on July 1, 1951, from Dr. Sherman L. Loupee.
The Deal family moved into town from Sister Lakes.
When Deals took over, the nursing home, situated at the end of Colby Street on a knoll overlooking Dowagiac and 13 acres of grounds, was staffed by four employees and could accommodate a maximum of 15 patients.
Through a renovation and construction program completed in conjunction with their fifth anniversary, capacity grew to 26 and increased staffing to 11.
The new wing covered approximately 2,800 square feet and consisted of 10 single patient rooms, each with its own bath, a nurses station and a large sun room to which the bedridden could be wheeled mornings and evenings to watch television. There were 13 acres of grounds.
Constructed of concrete blocks and roofed with asphalt shingles, the new wing’s interior was finished in plaster on plaster board, a fire-resistant combination painted in blended pastels.
“I don’t think the farmhouse came down until they built Schato” 40 years ago in 1970, she said.
Mayor Dr. James E. Burke presided over that belated ribbon-cutting ceremony in February 1971.
“There was a barn and a chicken coop and they raced horses. They even had a bear out there at one time in a pen with a cement block enclosure all the way around,” she recalled. “The house was in town, the barn was in the county, because I couldn’t ride the (school) bus.”
Sharon still lives on the Wayne Township side of Colby Street, where she has resided for more than 40 years.
“I got involved” with Atrium “when they tore the old section down – the yellow building,” Harnden said April 2. “I wanted them to save ‘my dad’s tree.’ It usually has beautiful colors in the fall.”
What was torn down was the block wing added to the original farmhouse in 1957, she said.
“Daddy died in ’58, right after the new one was built. (The tree) is the last memory I have of him.”
Her mother died in 1988.