To seniors’ health

Children from the Fort Dodge area donated dimes more than 60 years ago to help the late Rev. Clarence Tompkins build the senior living community called Friendship Haven.

All the buildings those dimes paid for have been replaced, but the mission of serving older adults continues in new facilities.

The redesigned campus on Kenyon Road was celebrated by about 200 people Friday at an event called a Red Carpet Evening.

John and Lin Simpson, of Fort Dodge, were honored during the event for giving a major gift that enabled the construction of a nursing facility named after them. The crowd drank a toast to the couple while standing in Friendship Haven’s main lobby, just footsteps away from the new John and Lin Simpson Health Center.

”You both are amazing, kind people,” Casey Johnson, a member of the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance Ambassadors, told the Simpsons.

The Ambassadors conducted a short ceremony during which Julie Thorson, chief executive officer of Friendship Haven, snipped a green ribbon with golden-colored scissors to signify the opening of the facility.

While up-to-date facilities are key, what goes on inside those buildings is more important, according to U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican.

”It all boils down to providing the best quality of life,” he said during the ceremony.

”What really matters is not the campus, it’s the quality of care that’s delivered here,” Grassley said. ”It gets right down to what you do for the individual.”

Bruce Shimkat, the chairman of the Friendship Haven Inc. board of directors, described how the effort to reshape the campus began more than a decade ago. He said leaders of the institution realized they needed to make it a desirable place for decades to come.

Since that time the old East and West buildings were razed and replaced by Kenyon Place Apartments, River Ridge Apartments and The Gardens Assisted Living. The recently replaced Tompkins Health Center now stands empty, awaiting a demolition crew. And the Schmoker Adult Day Services building will open this spring.

The oldest buildings now on the campus are some of the townhomes which were built in 1977.

”Here we are, and wow,” Shimkat said.

He said $3.5 million was raised during a recent campaign. He said the Simpsons gave a ”lead gift,” the exact amount of which has not been publically revealed.

Lin Simpson described the reaction she and her husband had when they initially contemplated the gift.

”When Bruce first suggested it, John and I just laughed,” she said.

During her remarks, she quoted poetry which emphasized the value of doing good things during one’s life.

While construction is winding down, the staff of Friendship Haven is preparing for the retirement of the baby boom generation, according to Bruce Vandagriff, who will replace Shimkat as the chairman of the board next week.

”We will continue to build Friendship Haven in a different way,” he said. ”So the Friendship Haven celebration is just beginning.”

State Sen. Daryl Beall, D-Fort Dodge, said he was among those children who donated dimes decades ago for the original buildings.

He added that he has always been impressed by the dedication of Friendship Haven employees who cared for some of his family members and friends.

”It’s obviously much more than a job,” he said.

Fort Dodge Mayor Matt Bemrich said Friendship Haven is a ”bookend” on the Fifth Avenue South/Kenyon Road corridor.

”So tonight is a celebration of not just Friendship Haven, but our community,” he said.

Shannon Strickler, president and chief executive officer of Leading Age Iowa, an organization of non-profit senior living communities, said Fort Dodge has something of which to be proud.

”I think you should be honored here in Fort Dodge to have one of the finest senior living communities in Iowa,” she said.