On International Women’s Day: remembering women of honor at PHS
International Women’s Day has been celebrated on March 8 since 1911. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day in 2011, President Barack Obama proclaimed March to be “Women’s History Month” calling Americans to mark International Women’s Day by reflecting on “the extraordinary accomplishments of women.”
In recognition of the many extraordinary women who have served and supported Presbyterian Homes & Services (PHS), we lift up four whose names and contributions reflect our mission.
Best remembered for helping Presbyterian Homes establish its first home for older adults, Lillias Joy was a member and Sunday school teacher at House of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Paul, MN. Miss Joy gave 20 acres of lakeshore property in 1952, in memory of her brother Charles. The land, which overlooked Lake Johanna in Arden Hills, Minnesota, is the site of the first Presbyterian Home, now named Johanna Shores.
Born in 1882 in Wells River, Vermont, Lillias Joy was six when her family moved to Minnesota. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, she dedicated her life to children’s education. She served as mathematics teacher at the Loomis School for girls, which became part of the Summit Schools in St. Paul. Lillias Joy died in 1978, at the age of ninety-five. She never got around to moving to Presbyterian Homes, saying, "I'll do that when I get old."
The Newton Sisters
Bessie, Carrie and Millicent Newton were also long-time members of the House of Hope Presbyterian Church. Bessie was survived by Carrie and Millicent, whose legacy of generosity helped shape the early history of PHS.
Former schoolteachers Carrie and Millicent retired to the Presbyterian Home in Arden Hills, MN, having led a frugal existence to guard against the day when illness might render them destitute. "And then a nurse in the home found some papers," said Reverend K. William Hagstrom, then the superintendent of the Presbyterian Home. "She told the sisters they were possessors of gilt-edged investments made by their parents and, as a result, the ladies who had feared they would be paupers discovered they were virtually millionaires."
In 1971, Millicent Newton turned the first clump of earth for the Newton Wing, made possible by the sisters’ generous lead gift. The Newton Wing opened in 1972 on the campus of the original Presbyterian Home, now Johanna Shores, which served over 100 new residents in apartments and skilled nursing care. The Newton Sister also donated parkland on Lake Johanna in memory of their parents, which became Newton Park, and provided funds for the campus to install air conditioning.
Carrie Newton died in 1964, just days before Newton Park on the Arden Hills campus was dedicated. Millicent Newton died ten years later, in 1974, at the age of 100.
Towner Crest, the newest PHS community in eastern Wisconsin, is named in honor of The Rev. Margaret E. Towner who, in 1956, was the first woman to be ordained as a teaching elder (clergy) in the PCUSA. Towner served as a co-pastor of Kettle Moraine Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of Milwaukee from 1973 to her retirement in 1990 to Sarasota, FL, where she still lives.
Although Margaret Towner was unable to attend the Towner Crest groundbreaking ceremony, held in September 2018, her greetings were shared at the ceremony. She wrote, “To have a building named after [me] is truly a humbling and awesome honor. I was reminded of the years I represented Milwaukee Presbytery on the Avalon Manor Board. It’s good to keep the story of women in the Presbyterian Church alive.” Avalon Manor is now Avalon Square, a PHS senior living community located in Waukesha, WI.
Dickson Hollow, strives to carry Sarah E. Dickson’s legacy forward as a joint venture with Living Hope Presbyterian Church and Presbyterian Homes of Wisconsin. Sarah was a pioneering leader in the Milwaukee Presbytery and a member of Wauwatosa Presbyterian Church. On June 2, 1930, Sarah E. Dickson became the first woman ordained as a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). Although Sarah was never a resident of a PHS community, her leadership opened doors for women to step up and contribute their best to the church and community and paved the way for the PCUSA to ordain women as clergy.
We remember and salute these and many other women who impacted our corner of the world for good and whose lives resonate with our mission, “To honor God by touching the lives and enriching the hearts of older adults.”