Making a Difference

Vol. IX No. 2 - FALL 1998

By: K. Gemperle and S. Remis

In May of 1988, The Methodist Home at 1415 W. Foster Avenue celebrated its 100th anniversary. But the story of United Methodist Homes & Services, a non-profit, non-sectarian organization that provides housing and health care to older adults in Chicago, actually began 102 years ago. It began with one act of kindness, by one person who wanted to make a difference - Mrs. E.E. Hartwell.

It was in the fall of 1896 when Mrs. Hartwell, a compassionate member of the Grace Methodist Church, opened her heart and home to six elderly women in need of care and support. She then rented a six-room flat at 317 Franklin Street to house her adopted “family.” A year later, when that site was outgrown, she rented a house at 141 Locust Street to care for nine ladies.

In 1897, three elderly women came into the care of the Deaconess Home in Chicago because there was no other place for them except the poor house. It was at this point that the Chicago Training School, the deaconesses and the Methodist Conference decided it was time to take over the work initiated by Mrs. Hartwell and to established an Old People’s Home.

Organizing efforts of the Home were guided by Mr. and Mrs. Josiah Shelley Meyer, who established the Chicago Training School, from which came four major institutions of the time: Wesley Memorial Hospital, Lake Bluff Orphanage, Jennings Seminary and “the pride of Chicago Methodism, ‘The Old People’s Home’ at Edgewater.”

Mr. Meyer rented a “suitable cottage,” as it was called back then, at 1811 Wesley in Evanston, to which the ladies under Mrs. Hartwell’s care and those in the Deaconess Home were moved. Miss Isabelle Reeves was placed in charge as superintendent and, in May of 1898, The Methodist Episcopal Old People’s Home was incorporated with $60 in cash, two months’ rent pledged and eight old people. The “suitable cottage,” however, was soon outgrown.

The need for more ample accommodations was met by William H. Bush, who gifted the present property on the corner of Foster and Glenwood Avenues in Edgewater. The first building to be erected was Bush Hall, at a cost of over $25,000, of which all but $2,000 was donated by Mr. Bush. When Bush Hall was dedicated in 1901, it boasted accommodations for 75 people. Nonetheless, there soon was a waiting list.

In response to the urgent call for additional space, Virginia J. Kent donated over $53,000 for construction of a new building to the east of Bush Hall, which was dedicated as Kent Hall in 1912. The combined capacity of both halls was 120 but, ten years later, demand had again outstripped availability. In 1918, Mrs. Gustavus F. Swift contributed $60,000, adding another $60,000 three years later for construction of Swift Hall, dedicated in 1923.

Over the years, building costs continued to rise. In 1946, the Home received over $175,000 from the will of Margaret W. Miller for construction of a new building with a sanatorium unit. Work on the four-story, 44-room Miller Hall began in 1950. The cost of the new Hall, including a new type of boiler to service both the old and new wings, exceeded $300,000, not including furniture or equipment.

In 1971, the Board of Trustees initiated an extensive rehab program to upgrade the facilities in the Swift and Miller Halls and to provide a new building to replace the Bush and Kent Halls. Part of a $3 million redevelopment campaign for the Home, a new Bush Hall was dedicated in June 1975, built a cost of $800,000 (32 times the cost of the original building).

While the Bush, Kent, Swift and Miller families certainly provided well for The Methodist Home, many, many others contributed to the development of what we know today as the United Methodist Homes & Services. In 1967, the Board of Trustees adopted a program known as the Methodist Community of Services. It extended their health care ministry into the community on an out-patient basis, offering eye, podiatric and optical clinical services, adding dental and hearing clinics in 1975.

The Redevelopment Program begun in the early 1970s transformed The Methodist Home from a provider of basic residential care for the ambulatory well aged into a facility fully licensed to provide three critically important levels of care: sheltered, intermediate and skilled. Admission was no longer limited only to those who could care for themselves.

In the last two decades, redecorating and refurbishing of facilities has continued. In 1990, the Winwood Apartments, a new 31-unit building adjacent to The Methodist Home, opened for occupancy. Elder services have been expanded to include transportation for the mobility impaired and friendly visiting for the homebound, among a myriad of other things. In 1989, the Community Health Center for Senior Adults introduced the 1415 Club to its clients. Medical and educational functions have been improved through affiliations with Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University.

United Methodist Homes & Services has received well-deserved awards for their programs from the Chicago Crusade of Mercy and the Retirement Research Foundation. The history of this wonderful community asset is a history of many people making a difference, taking up a call to help those in need. We are indeed fortunate to have The Methodist Home in our neighborhood and we congratulate the people who have made it possible. This 100-year anniversary is something of which they can be very proud.