Friendship Manor, 50 Years of Dignity

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Friendship Manor, 50 Years of Dignity

Category : Reflections

Good Morning once again.

It’s been busy around here these past few weeks and I don’t think we’ve been explicit in our current worship theme of Missions and Ministries of HUCC that we’ll continue for a couple more weeks.  

Beginning with Pastor Fred’s message on aprons not bibs about a month ago, followed by Linda Hilton’s message on Crossroads Urban Center, Rally Sunday and Rev. Shesh Tipton’s Labor Day message last week, we have tried to illustrate to you the importance of your church, HUCC,  in the never-ending march toward a more just world for all.  Christ repeatedly asks that of us and we are the United Church of Christ.

The bible tells us over and over again that we can and must change our behavior to help bring God’s realm here on earth.  As we all know, that’s easier said than done, but never impossible.  My message today is about another mission of HUCC that started many years ago and remains critically important today…allowing our elderly to retire in dignity.

Holladay UCC was founded back during a period when people were inspired to make some big changes.  From the late 1950’s through the 1970s, from fights for racial justice to women’s equality to LGBTQ rights, HUCC has been there every step of the way.  

One aspect of what we called our Great Society back then was taking better care of our senior citizens.  Although social security had been around since the 1930s, it wasn’t until 1965 that Medicare came about to provide some measure of security that surgeries or hospitalizations would not force seniors out of their homes and into bankruptcy.

Although social security and medicare were a godsend for seniors, some elderly still had a difficult time finding clean, safe and affordable housing.  Corporate America required a mobile workforce who could relocate anywhere.  Gone were the days when a family might stay in one town, able to take care of mom and dad down the street.  Mind you many of these seniors were WWI veterans and their spouses.  What could be done to help these seniors who had done so much in the first 25 years of the 20th century?

Well here in SLC, Friendship Manor was part of the answer.  The possibility of building a non-profit affordable housing community for seniors of any economic means was radical for 1961, and was the idea of two Westminster College professors who were members of the First Unitarian Church.   Because of the size and money involved to make Friendship Manor a reality, First Unitarian quickly realized this had to be an interfaith effort with other progressive congregations.  

After what had to be a lot of outreach and planning, three other congregations had joined in the effort: First Congregational Church, Congregation Kol Ami and the Intermountain Association of the United Church of Christ.  By early 1963, HUCC was part of the Board of Trustees for the Friendship Manor Corporation.  I believe that makes Friendship Manor the second oldest ministry of this church, after the preschool.  

Hard work by all four congregations continued, and in 1965 a loan of nearly $3.5M was obtained from the Federal Housing Authority to begin construction on property already owned by the First Unitarian Church at the corner of 13th East and 5th South.  By the way, that $3.5M loan in 1965 dollars would be nearly $27M today.

After a few bumps here and there, a new high-rise apartment building opened in Salt Lake City almost 50 years ago on December 10, 1967.  This 14 story building contained 178 apartments, ranging from studios to 2 bedroom, two bath units. Half the units were subsidized by the then new federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Subsidized apartments meant that seniors with only social security income could afford to live with dignity in a modern, safe and clean apartment.  This was truly a Christmas blessing come true for seniors in December of 1967 and that blessing continues to this day.  

When it opened, Friendship Manor was one of only a handful of non-profit independent living senior housing buildings in the entire country.  To this day, there still aren’t many equivalents to Friendship Manor because Friendship Manor was designed to be a community just like the founding congregations.  

Within Friendship Manor there is a convenience store, a hair salon, dining room for breakfast and lunch, a large lounge for many resident activities, a TV/movie room, an exercise room and gym, a computer lounge, a library, wifi throughout the building and a central garden and courtyard.  There are two service coordinators whose job is to assist residents in finding medical, transportation and other services, with the goal of keeping residents healthy and independent.

Friendship Manor’s original mission remains true today:  providing those 62 or older, or of any age with a disability, with affordable, decent, safe and sanitary housing, provision of nutritious and varied meals and diversified cultural and social activities.  To my knowledge, Friendship Manor is the only senior housing community in Utah that explicitly welcomes our LGBTQ seniors.

For 50 years, Friendship Manor has allowed seniors of any background and economic means to live in dignity.  Dignity is defined as:  the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect; a sense of pride in oneself; self-respect.  As a compassionate Christian, I think our senior citizens are worthy of that and I’m so happy that our denomination and this church is a part of Friendship Manor.

A number of HUCC congregants have called Friendship Manor home over the years.  Lydia Whipp was a long time resident until her recent passing.  At Lydia’s memorial service, I heard she loved to play poker with her FM friends, but wasn’t that good at it.   That funny, but loving statement from another resident illustrates the community aspect of Friendship Manor that is so important for our seniors.

Members of HUCC continue on the Board of Friendship Manor today.  I am the current Board Chair and am happy to be joined by Pat Gamble-Hovery, Jean Boyack and Keith Gurnsey.  Together with members of the other 3 congregations, our 17 person board makes sure that Friendship Manor remains true to its mission and that any project or change made is only done if it ultimately benefits the residents.  HUCC members who have served on the Board over the past several years include Nancy Stallings, David Turner, Joe Baker, Molly Turner and Russ Gorringe.   

If you or someone you know is looking for a place for an older relative or someone with a disability, I recommend Friendship Manor.  Just like this church,  it’s the community formed by the residents and staff that truly make Friendship Manor different.  If you want to find out more, call and take a tour.   In addition to your bulletin insert, I have more Friendship Manor info in the Narthex.  We also have a 50th Anniversary cake from Friendship Manor in MacMullen Hall to enjoy with your coffee.

Although our long-time missions…FM, our preschool, Crossroads Urban Center and others are all doing well, our work is never done.  The current social and political climate prove that.  We may have thought that we were finished, that the battles for social and environmental justice were finally won, America had changed for the better and we could start building on those achievements.  Now we realize it’s two steps forward and one step back and we are once again  called to action as we were in the 1950s and 60s.   

Seniors live much longer now than in 1967, but often with the need for assisted living.  Did you know there is no federal program supporting non-profit assisted living facilities?  States and other groups are left to try things on their own using Medicaid funds.  As a result more than 80% of assisted living facilities in the US are for-profit and there are no non-profit facilities in Utah.  Our current system moves too many poor seniors from places like FM directly to nursing homes where they soon die.  Let’s keep working to change injustices like that.  I’m proud to be with you in that effort.  AMEN!

Roger Lamoni


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