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Friendship Haven is a community on the grow

New CEO Thorson will oversee progress

January 30, 2012
Messenger News


Messenger staff writer

Friendship Haven is expanding into 2012, building on the efforts and hard work of its staff last year to further improve its facilities and resident care.

Article Photos

Mel Smith, director of plant operations, oversees construction of the new River Ridge Apartments at Friendship Haven, one of three projects the retirement community is working on in 2012.

The nonprofit continual care retirement community is continuing construction projects that begin in 2011 on two new buildings. River Ridge Apartments will be completed in 2012, with construction of its Tompkins Health Center and the new connecting campus starting this year.

Linda Lauver, Sales and Marketing director, said 2012 will be an exciting year for Friendship Haven.

"The most exciting thing about it is the benefits and amenities to people that they don't currently have," she said. "The lifestyle will be nice for them in a newer building."

The $38 million project won't be without its challenges, Lauver said.

"The transition itself will be a bit of a challenge, just to make sure it's seamless to provide services that we have," she said. "We just want to stay on the forefront as far as retirement living and what we have ... offer."

Chief Financial Officer Deborah Russell said they will have no problems accomplishing their goals.

The capital campaign for the project will take place over several years, Russell said. Meanwhile, Friendship Haven's nursing home will begin construction in 2012 for completion in 2013, and the assisted living building will be completed in fall 2012.

Once River Ridge is completed, residents will be moved out of Heritage Apartments, built in 1955, Russell said.

"When that building is vacated, we will be tearing that old building down," she said. "Then that will make room for the connecting link between the new nursing home and the assisted living."

While there will be challenges, Russell said she doesn't anticipate any difficulties.

"Always things come up, but we've been blessed with really good weather so far, so things are really on track," she said. "I don't really foresee any problems."

Russell said she is optimistic about Friendship Haven's capital campaign to raise $3.5 million for the project.

"We have tremendous support in the community, and always have," she said. "I think the community sees us as a valuable part of Fort Dodge, and we really serve the whole community. So we've always enjoyed very generous donors. They make us possible."

Another ongoing initiative being expanded at Friendship Haven in 2012 is its person-centered care, Russell said.

"It's a different way to serve people in nursing homes, so it's not so institutional," she said. "That's been going on for probably at least five years, but we continue to make a lot of progress in that regard."

On Jan. 6, Julie Thorson was chosen to be Friendship Haven's new president and chief executive officer. Thorson has been a part of the Friendship Haven family since 1999, and describes herself as "new, but a familiar face."

According to Thorson, 2012 will be a good year for the retirement community.

"It's a fresh start," she said. "We're not only building new buildings, but we're going to build on the tradition of excellence we've been creating for many years. Now we're going to take it to a new level with me in this position."

Thorson said it's been her life's dream to serve in this position.

"This is a calling," she said. "This is a position that I can honestly say, without reservation, I hope I'm in until I retire. This is, honestly, the pinnacle of my career and I'm proud and pleased to say that. It's more than a career advancement. This is my calling and where I'm meant to be."

Thorson holds Friendship Haven in the highest regard.

"I believe in it as a place to grow, live and work," she said. "My grandparents both had their last breaths here, and I wouldn't have wanted them to have their last breaths anywhere else but Friendship Haven, because I know the type of quality and care we provide.

"I think that says a lot for an organization that I would not only want to work here, but that I would want the people I care about most to be here, and ultimately spend their life here."

Contact Brandon L. Summers at (515) 573-2141 or



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