Anniversary celebration Sunday at Maple Lawn

Adam Larck

In 1922, a group of Mennonites opened the Mennonite Home for the Aged in Eureka.

Ninety years later, the now named Communities of Maple Lawn are preparing to celebrate their 90th anniversary on Sunday.

“As Maple Lawn celebrates 90 years of service, we are reminded of the many residents, employees, volunteers and supporters that have been a part of this long history,” Maple Lawn CEO Jim Sommer said. “The legacy of care continues today and hopefully will for another 90 years.”

The celebration, which lasts from 2-4 p.m., will feature board of trustees director Don Litwiller, former CEO Frank Kandel and Mennonite Health Service Alliance member Mim Shirk speaking.

In addition, there will be historical displays set up and tours of the campus will be given.

A reception will also be held and entertainment provided by the First Mennonite Church of Morton for an estimated crowd of 400 people, including various Eureka government officials.

“It’s just a great big open house to celebrate our history and legacy of care from 1922 to where we are today,” Donna Lee, director of development and communications, said.

Humble beginnings

Before 1919, Maple Lawn had never even been imagined.

However, a fire in Rittman, Ohio, on May 19, 1919, destroyed the Old People’s Home that previously housed residents.

“Then, the Mennonite General Board of Missions looked to see where would be the best place to build a home to take care of the aged,” mission outreach director Marj Bachman said. “There really wasn’t anything at that point in history like that.”

After deciding to base it in Illinois, a committee suggested Eureka to the board.

Soon after, the first group of workers broke ground on the 18-acre tract on June 19, 1921.

By 1922, the first building was finished, consisting of 32 bedrooms.

“It’s hard to fathom that everything was done from that building at the time,” Lee said. “It was self-sufficient. They had livestock; they had gardens and an orchard.”

Two weeks ago, the building was razed to the ground to allow for future growth of the community, which now occupies over 100-acres.

“The building has meant a lot to many people over the years,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of memories and passion connected to that building.”

Even back then, volunteering was a big part of the Mennonite Home for the Aged.

“We have always been a mission-based Christian community,” Lee said.

Churches and volunteers would help with canning fruits and vegetables, tending the garden, livestock and more. In addition, J.D. Smith, the first superintendent, had a vision of how the grounds should look in the future, eventually helping Maple Lawn get its current name.

“He was really a visionary when it came to the grounds,” Lee said. “It was important for him to make sure that there were plantings and trees. He had a vision of what it would look like one day.”

Changing times

From its small start, Maple Lawn has gone through many changes, from the landscape to even its name.

“We started as the Mennonite Home of the Aged,” Bachman said. “Then the board, when we built the first cottages, renamed it Maple Lawn Homes to reflect that expansion of services. Then, as the campus continued to grow and we were building apartments and cul-de-sacs of cottages, then the board decided to change it to the Communities of Maple Lawn.”

The latest name change happened in 2006. Besides expanding land size, plenty of buildings have been added as well. The first cottage was built in 1955, while the health center opened in 1964. Since then, various cottages, duplexes and a bigger apartment complex have been added as well.

For children, the Noah’s Ark Children’s Center was started 30 years ago.

“Our Noah’s Ark Children’s Center/Intergenerational Program started in 1982, and we have won national awards for that,” Lee said. “We were one of the first to have an Intergenerational Program.”

A new Gathering Place, complete with administration offices and meeting rooms, was also finished in 2008.

All the changes have not been physical, though.

“Between 1940-1986, Maple Lawn was the site for what was called the Mennonite Voluntary Service Program,” Bachman said.

The program let volunteer workers from over America, Canada and even France came to the community and helped out.

In addition, changes have even happened with the residents at Maple Lawn.

“When we first started it was definitely the older elderly that came here,” Bachman said. “Now we have very young seniors. I think the word senior is changing in today’s culture.”

Working with the community

While volunteers have always helped at Maple Lawn, Maple Lawn has made sure to give back to the community as well.

Besides being the second largest employer in the city with about 130-140 people working there, various events are also held for the community to take in each year.

“An outreach program we have with the community is Meals on Wheels,” Lee said. “We take meals out to the elderly and those that may just need help for a while. For instance, they just came home from the hospital and can’t cook while on recovery. That’s been a great asset to the community.”

The center also has the Noah’s Ark Children’s Center to help watch children during the day.

In December, the Luminary Festival is held and people from all over come to see enjoy it. This will be the third year for the event.

The 21st annual “Go for the Green” golf outing will be held August 17th. The event, which is a fundraiser for Maple Lawn, features a round of golf at Metamora Fields before an awards dinner.

Each year, Maple Lawn welcomes volunteer groups from Eureka College, Eureka High School and the Eureka Future Farmers of America to help do projects.

“It’s nice to have a community of people who value the lives of elderly people,” Bachman said.