Riverside Villas model for senior housing in Midwest: Built on land donated 25 years ago

Though years away from hitting its 25-year anniversary, it was in August of 1991 that a donation of land led to the Good Samaritan Society Riverside Villas in Pine River becoming a model that would be used throughout the Midwest.

Travis Grimler/Echo Journal Land for the Good Samaritan Society Riverside Villas in Pine River was donated by Glenn MacMillan, a business owner. It became a model for other apartments in the GSS system.

Though years away from hitting its 25-year anniversary, it was in August of 1991 that a donation of land led to the Good Samaritan Society Riverside Villas in Pine River becoming a model that would be used throughout the Midwest.

In 1991, the Good Samaritan Society already ran a skilled nursing campus with up to 120 beds at one time (today there are 50 residents with private rooms). But until that time neither the local Pine River branch nor the other small community branches had what the company calls "Housing With Services," commonly known as assisted living apartments.

A decree from the top of the society changed that. Jim Wolf worked at the Pine River campus for 19 years until moving to Battle Lake in 1997 to become an administrator with the society there.

"The president at the time had called me one day and asked if we could find land and do a model project for the society to develop housing on heretofore only skilled nursing campuses," Wolf said.

Wolf said he spoke to Glenn MacMillan, a business owner and developer from Pine River who died in 2013.


"I went to Mr. MacMillan and asked him if he would be interested in working with us on the land. As our conversation developed over time, the offer came that he would donate the land, which he did," Wolf said.

MacMillan was the primary owner of 3.5 to 4 acres of land along the Pine River, along with City Attorney Ted Lundrigan. The donation paved the way for a development that may have happened somewhere else entirely.

"I would say it may never have happened there if not for the charitable visioning for Mr. MacMillan and his wife to donate this land to the society to develop this housing," Wolf said. "The society has historically gone to locations when they have been invited to come in, when there has been a community buy-in. We like it when local people actually put themselves in the vision. Mr. Macmillan did that in a big way with a really valuable piece of land he could have sold for a very tidy sum, I'm sure."

Construction on the 36-apartment building started in September of 1993 and continued through winter. When the doors opened in May of 1994, the parking lot was still gravel, but Wolf said half of the rooms were already rented.

"I think the project developed very close to what our vision was," Wolf said. "It was a brand new vision for the society to do a small market expansion of housing in a small market area and to break free of only providing skilled nursing. It really far exceeded our expectations."

Apartments include bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom, and some look over the Pine River. Garages are available for those who want them. Laundry services are on each floor, and life alert necklaces are available to any interested clients.

Of course, residents also have access to skilled nursing staff when needed.

It was an expansion of the society's mission from its other campuses, and residents in the villas have the option to bring more belongings with them when they move in; they can have pets; and they don't need to share living space. The apartments offer a very private and dignified setting with easier access to health professionals and much needed services than what residents would find living elsewhere.


"They are in their own home being able to get services to stay in their home as long as they can," said Karen Prososki, Pine River Good Samaritan Society administrator. "We try to bring as many services in there because there are about half of them who don't drive and they can still get their services. If they don't want to leave the building, they don't have to. Everything is taken care of and it's home away from home."

"It really met a need for people who wanted a connection to a skilled location where they could get services if they needed it, yet be in a system to provide multiple services in healthcare, not just skilled needs but also senior housing," Wolf said. "We designed it as 'Housing With Services.'"

Services have expanded over the years at the apartments. Today, residents have the ability to have hair appointments, meals, entertainment and many other amenities brought to them. Public transportation is available. They can have groceries delivered.

The whole goal of these services is to prolong the independent lifestyle that people expect. Some of those services are newer than others.

"When we first started at the apartments we didn't have services there," Prososki said. "Within the last three years is when they started services in the apartment buildings. We figured there was a need and people want to stay in their homes as long as they can. With services, they are able to stay longer."

"As a building ages, the population that lives there ages as well," Wolf said. "As people age, their needs for more care and more assistance grows so their services begin to follow."

Today, the Pine River Riverside Villas are not the only buildings of their kind in the Good Samaritan Society program, but they are the example that the society used to shape its programming throughout the Midwest.

"This model has actually spurred the society to think about themselves beyond just being providers of skilled nursing in small towns," Wolf said. "Knowing that older people will want to continue living in the community where they have lived their whole lives or many years of their lives, they are older and struggling with infirmity and they need to go to a place where they can get some support - and this filled that need immensely."


Wolf said most of the society's skilled campuses now have housing systems, though their shape has changed. Today the apartments are built with 28 units, which are easier for staff to manage. Some are built as hybrids with both the skilled care and the Housing With Services units on the same campus. Those that were constructed after the Riverside Villas, however, were constructed with Pine River in mind.

"This was a model project for the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society to develop housing in their small markets in the Midwest. It became a model for them," Wolf said.

Submitted Photo Though construction didn't begin until fall of 1993, the Riverside Villas started with a donation in 1991. This photo from August 1991 shows project coordinator Greg Amble and then Good Samaritan Society Administrator Jim Wolf on the site of the donated property in Pine River.

Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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