Grand Arbor's First 10 Years
January 19th, 2021
Through the Eyes of a Few Originals
As we look back at Grand Arbor’s first 10 years, we’re celebrating so many wonderful milestones and have a vision for more.
“When we were planning Grand Arbor, it was our vision to serve aging adults,” said Mark Anderson, President and CEO, Knute Nelson. “It was a big dream, and the whole community came together to help us make it a reality.”
“It filled a great need for housing,” said Roger Blank, who served as Chair of the Knute Nelson Board of Directors during the Grand Arbor building project. “It’s such a great addition to our community, and it was the impetus to expand housing in the area,” he said.
“The number of seniors we’ve served, the number of people we’ve helped with our wellness programs, and the number of people who have stopped in and eaten dinner with us—it’s been tremendous,” said Anderson.
A Vision for Changing the Paradigm
In the 2005 Strategic Plan, a simply defined initiative was included in it: Build Independent Living Apartments. Stuart Henrickson, then Board Chair, combined with the vision of Mark Anderson, newly hired President/CEO in 2004, began the transformation of Knute Nelson setting the course in motion to change the paradigm of aging, the Knute Nelson organization, and the Alexandria area community.
Strategic planning and a rigorous approach to forecasting the future needs of aging adults in the Alexandria area began. The Board of Directors was well-versed in the necessity for changing the paradigm for older adult services and for the future success and sustainability of Knute Nelson.
With Stuart’s guidance of the Board, plans for a 220,000 square foot senior lifestyle community complex totaling $26,000,000, Grand Arbor, were approved upon his recommendation to commence on this important endeavor. A second phase of Grand Arbor was completed in October 2016, and a 6,300+ square foot expansion of the wellness center occurred.
Knute Nelson’s non-profit mission is to serve individuals in ways that keep their best interests in mind, and philanthropy played a key role in the successful completion of the Grand Arbor building project. Through the Dimensions Capital Campaign, the Knute Nelson Foundation raised $3.2 million and secured a donation of land on which the Grand Arbor campus would be built.
The Dimensions fundraising campaign helped Knute Nelson initiate a new level of care as part of a retirement community that encourages active lifestyles, and the highest quality of living for all the later stages of life.
Philanthropy has always been a foundational value at Knute Nelson. It represents the cornerstone of the many qualities that define and distinguish the organization, including rigorous programs, exceptional professional staff, longstanding offerings of spiritual care and wellness, and a commitment to equity and access. Philanthropy, coupled with the extraordinary support and investment by generous community members, was vital in Knute Nelson’s success of fulfilling the ultimate vision of Grand Arbor.
“Just a hole in the ground”
Brittney Thoreson started her career at Knute Nelson as a Housing Advisor at Grand Arbor. “It was just a hole in the ground at that time. It was fun to be a part of the whole vision, watching it come to life.”
In her role, she helped individuals and couples decide if Grand Arbor would be a good fit. “I got to walk them through the entire process of deciding what apartment would be best and working with their families and building those relationships.”
“It’s been fun 10 years later to see residents that I helped move into Grand Arbor.” Today, Brittney oversees Grand Arbor in her evolved role as Vice President of Operations in addition to Knute Nelson’s other housing communities and the Care Center.
A Leap of Faith and a Two-year Wait Paid Off
Ervin Emde was one of the first to move in at Grand Arbor when it opened in 2011. He took a leap of faith two years earlier when he handed over his deposit. “There wasn’t even a shovel full of dirt turned yet,” he said.
Ervin found Grand Arbor, via Nelson Gables, after checking out a couple of other options. “The lady [at Nelson Gables] asked me what I wanted, and I said I was looking for a retirement home. I said, ‘I’m not quite ready for this [assisted living] yet.’”
She said, “I don’t think you are either, but we’re building a brand-new place east of town. It’s going to be called Grand Arbor.” He liked what he saw and put down his deposit.
When it came time to choose his apartment, he wanted one facing the street, rather than the woods and wildlife. “I’ve been on the farm all my life, and I looked at all kinds of wildlife. I wanted to see people for a change.”
“I’d never been in a place like this before. And I’ve enjoyed it. It’s better than out there on the farm where there was nothing to do but watch the neighbors go back and forth in the field. And so I’m enjoying being here,” he said.
“There are activities here. There are movies, and they have a bean bag toss, and they have a pool table. I hadn’t played pool since high school days. That was 75 years ago, and I was pretty rusty at it. I’ve made use of that quite a bit until the last few months.”
He also appreciates not having to deal with the weather now that he’s at Grand Arbor. “No matter what the weather is, they’ve got controlled temperature. It can be 20 below outside. You’ll look out the window, and snow is drifting, and you’re comfortable. On the farm, I would have to get out and shovel the snow off the porch, the driveway, and so forth. And I didn’t want to do that anymore.”
Ervin says that his move to Grand Arbor has been worth it. “The nurses are all swell. They’re very accommodating. If you ask for something, they try to do their best to satisfy you.”
The measure of a community
“It’s so fun to walk into Grand Arbor,” said Brittney. “It feels like a community, and it’s active and thriving. We’ve brought in more apartments, more care. It’s come a long way, and it’s been fun to watch each stage.”
Roger believes Grand Arbor is another way Knute Nelson contributes to the well-being of the area. “During the Grand Arbor project, one of the comments I remember hearing was, ‘A community is defined by how well they care for their youth and how well they care for their elderly.’ Knute Nelson has childcare, and it also cares for the elderly. It provides an element that makes this area a much better place to live.”