Lutherans in the Twin Cities

A hundred years of care

Norwegian Lutherans launched Lyngblomsten a century ago.

“Many people know us as a nursing home, but we weren’t a nursing home from the beginning. How we really started was senior housing.” — Patricia Montgomery

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As the Lyngblomsten senior-care organization continues its centennial celebration this year, it’s obvious to visitors that this nonprofit agency with significant Lutheran ties is much more than the “nursing home” some of them may have thought.

It offers a full continuum of services for older adults, both on its one-block campus midway between the State Fairgrounds and Como Park in St. Paul and at other metro-area sites. And it keeps pushing the envelope to add new ones.

Today it offers not only long-term health care but also short-term rehabilitation care, independent housing with services, and a variety of outreach programs for seniors living in their own homes or apartments.

Indeed, says Patricia Montgomery, director of marketing communications, Lyngblomsten has never been, since its incorporation in 1906, a place solely devoted to care for frail and bedridden older persons.

Lyngblomsten’s founders conceived of it as a home for widows and widowers left alone after the death of a spouse, she pointed out. It was modeled after the snug little huts along the coast of their native Norway that housed widows of fishermen who had lost their lives at sea.

It was in 1903 that Anna Quale Fergstad gathered a group of Norwegian immigrant women in St. Paul to form a literary club. But soon after they started meeting, the 11 women decided they wanted to embark on a benevolent enterprise. They came up with the idea of a home where elderly persons without a family or friends to look after them could get shelter and care.

The women established branches around the Upper Midwest and then incorporated and began fund raising in 1906. They chose the name Lyngblomsten from the word for the Norwegian national flower (lyng) and the Norwegian word for “bloom.”

By 1911 the incorporators had raised enough money to buy land midway between St. Paul and Minneapolis. In 1912 they broke ground for the first Lyngblomsten Home on the southeast corner of Midway Parkway and Pascal Street.

The home opened in December 1912 with 34 older Norwegians moving in. It was quickly filled to its capacity of 44, but it was not until 1938 that an addition to the building was constructed. The women in the various branches owned and operated the facility, and it was managed by a volunteer staff made up entirely of women until 1961.

In a reincorporation that year, the women donated all the property and assets of Lyngblomsten to the old St. Paul Conference of the American Lutheran Church. Congregations of the conference became the owners.

There had been no explicit tie to the Lutheran church when Lyngblomsten first opened, Montgomery said. The founders stipulated only that the residents should be “Norwegians, worthy persons and Christians.” But it can be safely assumed that the founding women were Lutherans, she added.
The number of congregations that are corporate partners and own Lyngblomsten now totals over three dozen and has been expanded to include a handful from other Christian denominations. And Lyngblomsten facilities and programs are open to all faiths and cultures.

But the bylaws state that a majority of the partner congregations must be Luther-an, and Lyngblomsten de-scribes itself as a “nonprofit social ministry organization under the Evangelical Lu-theran Church in America.”

Two years after the reincorporation a new care center was constructed on the eastern part of the property, and in 1977 a second section was completed to the south of that. Today this combined facility provides 24-hour skilled nursing care and has a total of 14 units or “neighborhoods,” each with a maximum capacity of 22.

Two of the units house patients with Alzheimer’s disease, one is reserved for residents receiving transitional care prior to returning home following hospitalization, and three are “service houses,” based on a Swedish model of care. The rest are general units.

This whole setup reflects a shift over the past three years to a more resident-centered model of care in which residents are given more choices in the way they live, Montgomery said.

In 1979 Lyngblomsten added an apartment building where seniors could live independently but have assistance with daily activities if needed. Lyngblomsten Apartments is located on the southwest corner of the campus and has 105 units at subsidized rental rates available.
A second apartment complex, The Heritage at Lyngblomsten, was built in 1994 on the site of the original care facility, which had been demolished a year earlier. The Heritage has 60 units of market-rate housing.

The Newman-Benson Chapel was constructed in the center of the campus in 1987, and the Senior Community Center which Lyngblomsten had launched to serve seniors in the surrounding neighborhoods in 1979 moved into the basement of the new chapel.

The community center, with its wide array of activities and services, had previously functioned in the original Lyngblomsten building, where space became available with construction of the new care-center buildings.

The decade of the 1990s saw Lyngblomsten expand its outreach efforts substantially. It initiated parish nurse programs in about a dozen of its partner congregations, and launched “care team ministries” in another dozen. Under the latter program, a group of volunteers is established to build a friendly relationship with a shut-in member and work together to help meet that person’s needs.

Lyngblomsten has also established The Gathering, a respite-care program under which persons experiencing early-stage memory loss but still living at home can get together in a small group periodically while their primary caregiver takes a break. The program operates at Augustana and Salem Lutheran churches in West St. Paul, St. Timothy Luther-an in St. Paul and Centennial United Methodist Church.

Lyngblomsten staff members also provide home health services to seniors who elect to stay in their own homes as long as possible. In addition, staff persons run health-monitoring and education programs at partner congregations and other sites in the community where seniors gather.

In 1998, Lyngblomsten opened the Superior Street Cottages, a community of 23 one-level rental homes on a three-acre site located two blocks north of St. Clair Avenue and three blocks west of West 7th Street in St. Paul. It’s about six miles southeast of the main campus. Intended for seniors who want to remain in their community but be free of the burden of maintaining their own home, the cottages have separate front entries with porches and attached gar-ages and are grouped around a courtyard in the center. Most residents don’t need medical help, and all want to retain an active lifestyle. Some rents are market-rate, some subsidized.
In another outreach move, Lyngblomsten in 1993 took over the role of manager of the 42-unit Pioneer Manor senior apartment complex located in White Bear Lake and owned by that city.

The senior-care organization is now training its sights on what Montgomery calls another “critical piece of the puzzle — the re-emergence of the family caregiver.” Con-cerned about the load of stress many adults carry as they take responsibility for the well-being of both their own spouse and children and their parents and older relatives, Lyngblomsten will host a Caregivers Confer-ence November 18 for such persons.

Despite the major expansion of Lyngblomsten in re-cent years, a Christian mindset remains pervasive in all aspects of its operations, Montgomery emphasized. She cited the opening words of its mission statement, “Influenced by Christ …,” and the regular opportunities for devotions, Bible studies and worship services along with the presence of two chaplains on staff.

To handle all the irons it now has in the fire, Lyngblomsten requires a paid staff of over 400 and is heavily dependent on the efforts of more than 500 volunteers. Its annual budget for 2005 totaled $19.9 million, of which 46% came from client fees, 50% from government subsidies and 4% from charitable donations.

Lyngblomsten policies are set by a board of 17 members, most from the partner churches and the rest from the community. All are elected by the delegates from the partner churches.

Events marking the centennial of the senior-care organization be-gan last February 19 with a celebration worship service at the Chapel of the Incarnation at Luther Seminary. Festivities will conclude with another service February 4, 2007, at the Newman-Benson Chapel on the Lyngblomsten campus.

Coming up soon is the annual Husby Memorial Concert at 3 p.m., Sunday October 15 at Lyngblomsten. It will feature two music and dance groups, one — Det Norske Folkdanslaget — represents the organization’s Norwegian roots. The other — Monswahgon — recognizes the presence today of many African immigrants on the agency’s staff.

The concert is free and open to the public.