Founders of The Village Retirement Center were trendsetters 50 years ago

On a blustery November day in 1963, the collective vision of a group of local businessmen came to fruition when The Village Retirement Center opened on West Powell Boulevard.

Mark Hatfield, then Oregon’s governor, spoke to those who attended the dedication, which officially launched a new concept in local independent senior retirement living.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - A group of Seventh-day Adventist businessmen broke ground on a 12-acre site for an independent retirement center aimed at middle-to-low-income seniors over age 62.

“Our founders were just a group of Adventist businessmen who wanted to offer something to seniors and the community,” said Dennis Whitted, administrator for The Village Retirement Center. “This is an independent living community, but the amenities we offer are unique and they were very unique at the time.”

The Village was somewhat of a trendsetter at the time, given that housing options were so limited for seniors who no longer wanted to maintain a big home and yard. In the early 1960s, seniors generally didn’t leave their home until they required the services of nursing care.

But The Village changed that. Over 14 months, 120 single-level apartments were constructed on a 12-acre parcel just west of Southeast 182nd Avenue. The complex was built with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) loans and subsidies, which allowed the group to cater to seniors, age 62 and older, in the low-to-middle income range. Studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments or a “deluxe unit,” featuring 800 square feet of living space, carried a monthly rent ranging from $95 to $125.

The campus included a community building for activities, as well as a dining room for meals and a 200-seat chapel for worship services. Residents also had access to a 14-bed infirmary, overseen by a resident nurse, if they participated in the “medical care program,” which cost a whopping $10 per person per month.

The Village’s founding fathers thought things through when it came to the needs and wants of seniors, Whitted said, and 50 years later, it’s a philosophy maintained today.

“There wasn’t adequate housing for that group back then, and there still isn’t,” Whitted said. “We feel that was the mission of our founders, and we’re still observing that. We are here to serve our people. We’re hoping to redefine aging by helping people continue to do what they enjoy doing and do those things longer.”

Today, The Village boasts 160 apartments, spread across 16 acres, and is home to nearly 200 residents. Relatively hidden from view along Powell Boulevard, The Village resembles Norman Rockwell’s depiction of an old-fashioned neighborhood. Tree-lined streets gracefully curve past mailboxes and detached garages, while folks visit across meticulously maintained front yards or in common areas.

The Village has evolved with the times, recognizing that the needs of seniors also are changing. Weekly transportation to grocery stores and medical clinics is available for residents who choose not to drive, while services such as housekeeping, lunch in the cafeteria and individual landscaping are offered on an a la carte rate. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Today, The Village Retirement Center is home to nearly 200 residents. The tree-lined streets are reminiscent of the way neighborhoods used to look.

And if the health of a resident declines to the point where he or she no longer is able to live independently, The Village has forged relationships with nearby facilities that offer living arrangements to meet medical needs.

“We’ve had a few situations where a husband or wife needed assisted living or memory care, and they just moved next door (to Powell Valley Assisted Living and Memory Care),” Whitted said. “Those situations work well because the spouse is able to walk over there to visit and they’re still near each other.”

Whitted is a longtime Gresham resident who mowed lawns at The Village as a teenager in the mid-1970s. He became assistant administrator in 1982 and administrator in 2006, but said the stability of the managing organization is attributed to strong local ties and a commitment to continuity.

“We’ve only had four administrators and four chairmen of the board in 50 years,” he said. “We’re also very rooted in the community, with wonderful partnerships with local businesses like MBank and Camps Lumber. Riegelmann’s furnished all the appliances when The Village was built, and we have ongoing relationships with those businesses now, while we remodel and renovate each unit.”

The Village’s founding fathers were forward thinkers 50 years ago, when they recognized the value of independence in the aging process and how it contributes to living longer. They created an environment that not only is supportive to seniors but familiar.

“We have a real sense of community here,” Whitted said. “It’s like the days when people watched out for each other and sat on the front porch and visited. That’s what I think is unique about us.”

More information:

Who: Village Retirement Center

4501 W. Powell Blvd., Gresham

What: independent retirement living for seniors age 62 and older; scheduled transportation, cafeteria and community clubhouse for residents; also features a 200 seat chapel.

For more information, call 503-665-3137

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