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Bethesda residents and staff celebrate move to new home

WILLMAR--To the fanfare of the KMS marching band and a procession of classic cars, residents of Bethesda Heritage Center said goodbye Tuesday morning to the old facility and hello to their new home at Bethesda Grand. The occasion was celebrated w...

Briana Sanchez / TribuneCrowds gathered at the intersection to see the group of people who participated in the parade.
Crowds gathered at the intersection to see the group of people who participated in the parade. Briana Sanchez / Tribune

WILLMAR-To the fanfare of the KMS marching band and a procession of classic cars, residents of Bethesda Heritage Center said goodbye Tuesday morning to the old facility and hello to their new home at Bethesda Grand.

The occasion was celebrated with a balloon release followed by a parade down 11th Avenue Southeast to the Bethesda campus six blocks away, where construction was recently completed on an addition to Bethesda Pleasant View. The project unites Bethesda Health and Housing residents, staff and programs under one roof on a single campus along Willmar Avenue Southeast now called Bethesda Grand.

Eighty-five residents of the Heritage Center made the move Tuesday. Many of them, bundled up against a cool breeze, joined the parade, pushed along in wheelchairs by staff and relatives. A cheering crowd of Pleasant View residents and staff welcomed them at their destination.

"It's a red-letter day for Bethesda," said Carla Lagerstedt, chairman of the board of directors. "It's a wonderful event."

The move was eagerly anticipated for a long time, said Michelle Haefner, chief executive of Bethesda Health and Housing.

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"It's been eight years in the planning and two years in construction," she said. "The residents have just been so excited and positive and looking forward to the change."

Preparation started several months ago with a series of meetings that gave residents and families a chance to ask questions and get information, Haefner said.

There were many logistics that had to be organized before the move to ensure all the services, from medications to a noon meal, could continue seamlessly, she said.

A public open house in the newly completed wing on the west end of the Bethesda campus was held this past Friday. Over the weekend families and volunteers showed up to start moving furniture and personal belongings so that the rooms could be ready for residents to move in Tuesday.

"Everything fell into place," Haefner said. "We had many volunteers help us. We got a lot accomplished over the weekend."

When Loretta Watkins, 96, arrived in her new room Tuesday morning, her familiar belongings were already there and mostly unpacked.

Her daughter-in-law, Carol Sands of Huntley, Minnesota, said the transition won't be completely easy.

"We're with her today, taking her around and showing her where to eat, showing her the fireplace," she said.

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Seeing the same familiar faces will help with the adjustment, she said. "That's the most important thing. She wants to know she has the same people around her."

The staff's enthusiasm and quickness to help also will go a long way toward making her mother-in-law feel at home in new surroundings, Sands said. "Everyone here has been so positive," she said.

"Change is hard at any age. Moving is hard at any age," Haefner said. "They have handled this so well. That teaches us all something."

By noon Tuesday, residents had found their new rooms and made their way to the home-like dining rooms situated in each resident "neighborhood."

The first stages of the transition seemed to be going well, said social worker Tiffany Picard.

"It's been a fun process. We had a lot of teamwork," she said.

She's looking forward to seeing residents and staff settle in. "They were so ready to get over here," she said. "It'll be fun watching this become more and more of their home."

Now that it's vacant, the old Heritage Center is up for sale. Meanwhile, Bethesda will soon start construction on the next phase of its integrated campus, a town center that includes a restaurant open to the public.

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Lagerstedt, who walked in the parade accompanied by her dachshund, Diesel, said the capital campaign is continuing. Bethesda has a goal of raising $3 million to support the $21 million project, whose aim is to provide a greater range of options to serve aging adults.

Connection with the community is a key part of the vision, Lagerstedt said. The completion of the community center will create a place for generations to mingle and feel a sense of belonging, she said. "It'll be good."

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