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Happy 63rd Anniversary Presbyterian Homes & Services!

A current resident recalls connections with PHS founders
Katie OlsonOn June 15, 1955, the first resident stepped across the threshold of the new Presbyterian Home in Arden Hills, Minnesota. Today marks the official beginning of a ministry that has grown to serve over 25,000 older adults through 45 PHS-affiliated senior living communities in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa, and through Optage®, the home and community services division of PHS.

Katie Olson, who lives at Norris Square, located in Cottage Grove, was personally acquainted with three of the individuals whose vision and dedication set the foundation upon which the mission of PHS stands. Katie shares her memories of these early leaders and the important place PHS holds in her family’s story.

Katie grew up in the Summit Hill neighborhood of St. Paul, MN. She recollects early childhood memories of Miss Lillias Joy, member and Sunday School Teacher at House of Hope Presbyterian Church. In 1952, Miss Joy generously gifted 20 acres of lakeshore property in Arden Hills on which the first Presbyterian Home (now Johanna Shores) was built in 1955. Katie remembers, “Although we were attending the Episcopal Church, my grade school was walking distance to House of Hope Presbyterian Church. On Wednesday afternoons I attend a children’s program at the church led by Miss Joy.” Although she was very young and the memories are vague, Katie remembers Miss Joy as kind and loving to children.   

Edwin KaginAlmost a decade earlier, The Synod of Minnesota of the United Presbyterian Church had appointed Dr. Edwin Kagin, professor of religion at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota to lead a study committee. Dr. Kagin understood the needs of older adults, particularly retiring ministers, missionaries and their spouses. In 1947 the committee recommended and the Synod approved establishing a Presbyterian home. Dr. Kagin served as its first chair and president of the board. 

Katie attended Macalester College, a Presbyterian related college in St. Paul, MN. There she was a student in Dr. Kagin’s Old Testament class. Katie remembers that, although Dr. Kagin was not a large man, he had a big heart. “He was a good teacher and had an interesting sense of humor,” she said, “He was an absolute delight.” 

Fast forward to the 1970’s when Katie and her husband, Conway, were making a home and raising a family in Cottage Grove, MN. Katie’s parents also returned to Minnesota and moved to The Presbyterian Home. Her mother was one of the first residents of the brand new McKnight Care Center and her father lived in an apartment at what was then called Lakeview Assisted Living.  Katie became acquainted with Dr. Irving West, pastor of House of Hope Presbyterian Church who was appointed as President of the Board in 1952. “He always greeted me when I was visiting my parents,” she said. “Stoic” is the word that comes to mind when she thinks of Dr. West. She remembered, “He was personable but not necessarily outgoing. However, I always felt respected and acknowledged by him.”  While spending time with her mother, Katie would also visit with several of her mother’s friends living at Presbyterian Home, including Dr. West’s wife. “I always thought the Presbyterian Home was such a nice place,” she said. 

Lillias Joy and Dr. Irving WestThe influence of Presbyterian Homes has remained with Katie into her own retirement. Ten years ago, she watched with anticipation as Norris Square was being built. “I was delighted that PHS was constructing a senior living community in my town because I know the quality of the building, staff and services,” she said. Katie was so enthused that she encouraged a friend to reserve an apartment at Norris Square before the building was open. 

In January 2017, Conway moved to a local care center and Katie moved to a senior living apartment at Norris Square. After years of caring for her children, her parents and her husband, Katie is living alone for the first time in her life, but grateful to be in a community with friends from her church and to meet others who share common experiences. “So far it’s been a good experience,” she said. When she looks back at the many years and connections with Presbyterian Homes, she concluded fondly, “What other choice is there?”

As we venture into our 63rd year of ministry to older adults, we are grateful for the vision of our founders and the loyalty of residents like Katie who have called a PHS community their home. Across the generations, they remind us that our mission continues with purpose and meaning; “To honor God by  enriching the lives and touching the hearts of older adults.” 

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