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Bethesda to add hospice to its senior care services in west central Minnesota and expand independent living

Bethesda will be adding hospice to its family of senior care services offered in west central Minnesota, as well as expanding its independent senior living communities in New London and Willmar. The announcements were made Sunday during a celebration to mark the nonprofit, faith-based organization's 125th anniversary.

Bethesda CEO Michelle Haefner, back right, announces new initiatives being rolled out by Bethesda. She spoke Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Willmar during a 125 anniversary celebration for the nonprofit organization. Caroline Chan, front from left, Holli Cogelow-Ruter and Sarah Zimmerman hold sign boards about them. Bethesda board members Roger Ahrenholz, left, and Dean Johnson are seated behind Haefner.
Bethesda CEO Michelle Haefner, back right, announces new initiatives being rolled out by Bethesda. She spoke Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Willmar during a 125 anniversary celebration for the nonprofit organization. Caroline Chan, front from left, Holli Cogelow-Ruter and Sarah Zimmerman hold sign boards about them. Bethesda board members Roger Ahrenholz, left, and Dean Johnson are seated behind Haefner.
Jennifer Kotila / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — During the Bethesda 125th anniversary celebration Sunday, it was announced that Bethesda will be adding hospice care to its family of senior care services as well as expanding its independent living communities in New London and Willmar.

“We certainly have been blessed with a very forward, strategic thinking governing board of directors from the very beginning, and sometimes those decisions are difficult as to what our future looks like,” said Bethesda CEO Michelle Haefner during the Legacy Day program conducted Sunday in Willmar. “The boardroom is always filled with love and compassion and what’s best for our communities, our friends, our families whom we serve.”

She noted the new initiatives continue Bethesda’s faith-forward tradition of care for its community.

Pastor Dan Bowman and his wife Karen, along with Pastor Mary Hovland look over a booklet about Bethesda during the Legacy Day celebration Sunday, Sept. 25.
Pastor Dan Bowman, from left, and his wife Karen, along with Pastor Mary Hovland look over a booklet about Bethesda during the Legacy Day celebration Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Willmar. Pastor Bowman opened the Legacy Day program with a prayer.
Jennifer Kotila / West Central Tribune

“For generations, Bethesda has provided housing, services, programming, etc. to promote living. It’s very much a place of living, active purposeful living. But we also have a long history of caring for the end-of-life journey — not only for the resident patient, but the family members and friends involved,” Haefner said about the hospice initiative. “We do this with compassion and love and we look forward to serving those needs in that very personal time when end of life is needed.”

The independent living initiative will be a mulitmillion-dollar investment in creating what Bethesda is calling garden home communities, that will provide support, friendship, a sense of community, and also an array of amenities that Bethesda sees as needed for the future generations of people it serves.

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“There is a need and the need is right now for independent senior living,” Haefner commented. “We are committed to expanding our independent senior living, both here in Willmar and on our Northpoint New London site. We are committed to respond to the increasing needs for this type of independent living.”

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Several listening sessions have been scheduled for the community to share their input on the square footage, desired amenities, style and more.

Those sessions are scheduled as follows:

  • Friday, Sept. 30, 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. at Brothers Cafe and Bistro at Bethesda Grand, 901 Willmar Ave. S.E., Willmar.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 4, 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at Bethesda North Pointe, 500 Peterson Parkway, New London.
  • Thursday, Oct. 6, 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at Brothers Cafe and Bistro at Bethesda Grand.
  • Monday, Oct. 10, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Bethesda North Pointe.

People are asked to RSVP, but it is not required, by contacting Bethesda at welcome@bethesdawillmar.com or 320-214-5643 .

“We know that we can’t do what we do today or grow without team members, without the hands that do the important work,” Haefner said in introducing a new employment initiative as well.

Bethesda is rolling out a program to help meet some of the unserved needs at Bethesda, and also help people who are in need of employment or who might need more attention in their employment process.

“We are excited, honored and thankful to advance our mission and ministry at Bethesda along with all of you, our community members. We could not do this life without our team members, but also our community who supports us,” she added. “As it started in 1897, it was very much a community-supported initiative and ministry, it continues to be that today, and we will move forward with that same basis.”

Celebrating Bethesda’s legacy

“When an organization celebrates a milestone, whether 100 years or 125, as Bethesda, I think it’s appropriate to look back at what the founding mothers and fathers and those who had a vision, what they thought. And they thought about caring, caring for other human beings,” said Pastor Dean Johnson, a board member for Bethesda, as well as a member of the foundation board.

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Pastor Dean Johnson spoke about Bethesda's history as well as its present during the Legacy Day program celebrating its 125th anniversary, as well as praising the staff that work at Bethesda and other care facilities.
Pastor Dean Johnson speaks Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Willmar about Bethesda's history as well as its present during the Legacy Day program celebrating the organization's 125th anniversary. A member of the Bethesda board and also its foundation board, Johnson also praised the Bethesda staff and others who work in caregiving.
Jennifer Kotila / West Central Tribune

He explained briefly that Bethesda started as an orphanage and evolved into what is the campus on Willmar Avenue.

“As I think about this organization, it is a wide spectrum of interest in people who have cared,” he added. “Michelle has a vision for this place and for the future. She and her staff are wonderful. But it goes even further than that, because an institution or an organization like this does not exist unless there are employees.”

He encouraged those in attendance to thank the employees of long-term care facilities, noting it is not easy work.

Bethesda, which has provided elder care in Willmar for decades, is celebrating its 125th anniversary on Sunday. The entire community is invited to an afternoon of fun, fellowship and history.

“Our overarching theme of serving others through the grace of God and doing it with joyful hearts and thankful hearts makes us who we are at Bethesda,” Haefner said. "A mission in the making of 125 years of serving others together in faith, community and light, we are here today because a man, Pastor Nils Haggerness, in 1897 saw a need and he took action,” Haefner said. “That act of love and compassion has grown into something much larger. Like the faith of a mustard seed is meant to grow, Bethesda was also meant to grow.”

She encouraged people to look at the timeline of Bethesda in their program, explaining that by 1905, the orphanage had grown into what was known as the Bethesda home, and another home called the Country Home that housed the elderly.

Bridger Christensen, 4, enjoys the bouncy slide during Bethesda's 125th anniversary Legacy Day celebration.
Bridger Christensen, 4, enjoys the bouncy slide during Bethesda's 125th anniversary Legacy Day celebration. Children's activities and a community worship services were among the events Sunday, Sept. 25, 2022, in Willmar to mark the anniversary.
Jennifer Kotila / West Central Tribune

“It’s quite remarkable when you think about that farm back in those days. I think about the Depression days and all the unimaginable hardship that they encountered during that time with a house full of children and home full of elderly, both in need,” Haefner continued, noting it reminded her that Bethesda has seen hardship over the years — most recently the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But, the people we serve shouldn’t see that, they should see the solutions, the love, the compassion and the care, and as we overcome those things, we grow as a team, we grow as a family, and we see that we can do much more than we imagined,” she added. “It also brought to surface some of the most important things in life, and that's faith, grace, human relationships and community.”

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Jennifer Kotila is a reporter for West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota. She focuses on local government, specifically the City of Willmar, and business.

She can be reached via email at: jkotila@wctrib.com or phone at 320-214-4339.
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