Gratitude energizes Friendship Haven

Gratitude has been called the single most important ingredient to living a successful, fulfilled life. It’s incredible to see how gratitude motivates John and Lin Simpson of Fort Dodge. This remarkable couple recently donated the lead gift to accelerate Friendship Haven’s $3.5 million “Dare to Imagine Beyond the Dream” capital campaign, as part of our $38 million campus revitalization project.

The Simpsons’ $500,000 contribution and commitment to provide a 100-percent match for an additional $500,000 in future campaign donations from those of us in the greater community is even more inspiring when you learn about their humble beginnings. John was raised on a farm near Exira in southwest Iowa and grew up in a house without electricity or running water. By age 8 he was handling big jobs on the farm, like driving a team of horses to pull the hay fork. Within a few years, he began working at Pete Stone’s grocery store in Exira to earn extra money.

As a young man, John began his career in sales and moved to Fort Dodge in 1955 to work for Hormel. When a friend suggested he try the insurance business, he was intrigued by the opportunity to help people and make a good living, depending on how hard he was willing to work. After joining Northwestern Mutual Insurance in 1965 and learning the business, John opened the Simpson Insurance Agency in 1976.

His wife, Lin, a native of Decorah, joined him in the business (which included Kingsgate Health Insurance) in 1991, after running her own antique and floral shop in Fort Dodge. A child of divorced parents, Lin knew what it was like to struggle in life, and she wanted to make sure that the people she served throughout her career were treated right.

The Simpsons’ concern for others also manifested itself in their willingness to “adopt” many Friendship Haven residents. This tradition began in the late 1970s, after the Simpsons’ neighbor, Charlotte Olson, a retired beauty operator, and her sister, Alice Boge, a retired secretary, moved to campus.

“When we’d invite them to dinner at our home, they’d sometimes say, ‘We have a nice neighbor here at Friendship Haven. Could she come, too, if you have an extra chair?'” John said. “It mushroomed from there.”

Learning from the Greatest Generation

The Simpsons would often host two to six friends from Friendship Haven for Christmas dinner, Easter and Thanksgiving. They considered it a privilege to become better acquainted with remarkable people like Ralph Hickson, who managed the dime store in Fort Dodge, as well as Rudy Vevel and Orville Jensen, who were World War II veterans.

They heard the stories about how Orville found a job in Fort Dodge delivering groceries for Pappas Fruit Market for $10 a week after he graduated from Lehigh High School in 1938. They recalled his story about how one of his customers, a blind man, caned chairs and repaired the seats where his wife and her fellow switchboard operators sat at the central telephone office in Fort Dodge. They were impressed that Orville taught himself the art of chair caning by reading a library book and utilized his chair-caning skills throughout his life.

Memories of Orville, his wife, Ina, and many other dear friends spring to mind when the Simpsons visit Friendship Haven today. “I think of how our former neighbor, Alice, would have loved baking peach pies in the beautiful kitchen here,” Lin Simpson commented recently when she visited the new Health Center on campus and toured the cozy neighborhoods.

“People like Charlotte, Ralph, Rudy and Alice and Orville and Ina were truly the Greatest Generation,” John Simpson added. “They endured so much but were never victims. They had a ‘pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps’ outlook on life. Through it all, they were good, kind-hearted people who knew you get out of life what you put into it.”

The Simpsons share this philosophy, believing that when you give with one hand you are rewarded on the other. We are grateful for their numerous contributions to Friendship Haven’s education fund, which helps our employees build their skills and strengthens our standards of excellence. “I can still remember when I couldn’t afford $300 for my daughter to get her certified nursing assistant degree,” John Simpson told me the other day. “Back then, I never dreamed I’d have the opportunities I have today. It’s satisfying to help other people succeed.”

Paying it forward

All of us are grateful for the Simpson’s generous contributions to Friendship Haven’s education fund and our $3.5 million capital campaign, which will enhance our tradition of excellence and keep Friendship Haven at the forefront of retirement community living in Iowa.

While you’ve probably seen the construction that’s transforming Friendship Haven’s campus, the capital campaign is so much more than buildings. As Julie Thorson, Friendship Haven’s chief executive officer, often reminds us, bricks and mortar are nothing if we don’t have caring people at Friendship Haven. This commitment is important to the Simpsons and many other donors who are proud to carry on the legacy of Dr. Clarence Tompkins, who founded Friendship Haven more than 60 years ago.

As he worked tirelessly to make Friendship Haven a reality, Dr. Tompkins urged people to “make no little dreams.” Big dreams define our current capital campaign, which will allow Friendship Haven to:

Better serve our friends and neighbors. From the beginning, Friendship Haven has been a not-for-profit local organization that supports the local community. Today, Friendship Haven is home to 350 people and serves many people off-campus, as well. Services include independent living, assisted living, skilled care, Catalyst Rehabilitation, Generations Adult Day Services, a state-of-the-art Wellness Center, and more.

Offer peace of mind through charitable care. As part of its mission, Friendship Haven provides more than $500,000 of charitable care each year. From the day Friendship Haven opened in 1950, no one has ever been asked to move because they have exhausted their resources. This charitable care has offered generations of people tremendous peace of mind.

Drive local economic development. With 350 team members, Friendship Haven is one of the area’s largest employers, generating a major economic impact that ripples throughout the community.

Support from the Simpsons and many other donors forges the lasting partnerships that help Friendship Haven honor and respect God’s older children, who’ve given so much of themselves to their families and their communities.

We’re grateful that people like the Simpsons are willing to join us on this journey. They remind us that meaningful gifts given from the heart have the power to transform lives. As Julie Thorson says, these amazing people are “all in” when it comes to supporting Friendship Haven and paying it forward.

Why? They understand the importance of investing in the local community. That doesn’t mean they make these decisions lightly. John and Lin Simpson will tell you that they thought about moving to the Des Moines area after selling their insurance company in 2009. As they took another look at their adopted hometown of Fort Dodge, however, they reconsidered. It was hard to leave behind a place where people care about each other, help each other and share a renewed sense of possibility about the future, said Lin Simpson, who is glad she and John Simpson chose to stay in Fort Dodge.

Unleash the power of one simple act

This spirit of possibility also abounds at Friendship Haven through the “Dare to Imagine Beyond the Dream” capital campaign. Just ask the Simpsons and the many other donors who believe in the future of Fort Dodge and Friendship Haven. Like us, they are excited by the opportunities and can envision their future here in our local community. They know that success comes from growing where you’re planted, and they’ve discovered how everyday acts of generosity can lead to the very best life has to offer.

“When you volunteer your time and show concern and human compassion, it’s a gift – and a priceless one at that,” said Lin who treasures the stories in the book “One Simple Act: Discovering the Power of Generosity” by Debbie Macomber.

One simple act also lets you become a partner in our “Dare to Imagine Beyond the Dream” capital campaign. We currently stand at $2.6 million, so your support is needed to make our dream a reality. Your money will become twice as powerful, thanks to the Simpsons’ commitment to provide a 100 percent match for future campaign donations. To be part of this unique opportunity before our campaign ends on Dec. 31, contact me at (515) 573-6705, or You can also contact any capital campaign committee member, including Bruce Shimkat, Phil Gunderson, Bruce Vandagriff, Jim Patton, Kirk Yung, Steve Hendricks, Bev Baedke, Joe Jerome, Julie Thorson, Linda Lauver or Jennifer Crimmins.

We’re grateful for your support and your willingness to help us invest in the future. We’re reminded of the words of Dr. Robert Holden with The Happiness Project, who says, “The miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see.”

The world we see is the fulfillment of Dr. Tompkins’ dream and a bright future for our community. Nowhere are dreams more vibrant – and lives more full of faith, passion and purpose – than at Friendship Haven.

After all, it’s faith, passion and purpose that inspire a sense of gratitude, energize our community and help us fulfill our mission, which is reflected in one of Lin Simpson’s favorite poems, “The Dash.” The dash refers not to a race, but how we live our lives between the date of our birth and the time we leave this Earth. “For it matters not how much we own: the cars, the house, the cash. What matter most is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.”

Chad Hammar is development coordinator at Friendship Haven.