Bethesda Heritage Center was built in 1953 to support the growing need of the care in the community for senior housing. During the Annual Conference of the Lutheran Free Church, the idea of Bethesda Homes purchasing property in Willmar to build a new home was presented. Congress gave the project their unanimous approval. In April of 1951 they decided to erect a two-story building with a capacity of 38 beds. It had been constructed in a manner that two additional stories could be added to the structure later. In 1960, two additional stories were built, completing the project.
Today, the place where the brick building once stood prominently as home to many of our seniors is now owned by Calvary Lutheran, a member church. Within these walls of Heritage Center stood the foundation of Bethesda’s mission to serve others together in faith, community, and life. The ministry focused on spiritual life as well as the physical care of those who called Bethesda’s Heritage Center home. Every Wednesday at 9 am residents gathered for their Mission Society meeting followed by fun and interactive occupational therapy projects. During the month of February Valentine decorations were carefully crafted by the residents in a fun group activity and lovingly used to decorate the living rooms. Each month a variety of activities took place such as rug making and making items for the gift shop.
Each summer the center would host picnics and gatherings for the community, making use of a beautiful shelter built on site. Friends and relatives would join their loved ones to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, couples would come to visit loved ones who were unable to attend weddings. Bethesda Homes Heritage Center was a place where people celebrated life.
Now, let us step back in time to Sunday, October 14, 1951, when Reverend C.T. Olson oversaw laying the granite cornerstone and the special ceremony that took place. The festivities began at the new Heritage Center followed by a service at Calvary Lutheran Church. Many historical documents were placed in the cornerstone as a time capsule to be opened someday in the future. Fast forward to 2022 with Bethesda celebrating 125 years of serving others together in faith, community, and life. Plans are underway to open the cornerstone this year and reveal the historical contents that the Board of Directors at the time painstakingly preserved to provide a glimpse into the past and what life was like over 70 years ago.
The rich history of the Heritage Center lives on in the hearts of those served by Bethesda. That history includes being “the first in the entire state to be specially designed and equipped for aged and bedridden patients,” with 86 beds in 1953. An addition was completed making a total of 168 beds in 1961, and in 1971 Heritage Center was reconfigured with the expansion of a new chapel, addition to the kitchen, along with other improvements to the home. The history of the Heritage Center spans over 63 years from June 1953 to September 2016. Since the inception of Pastor N.S. Haggerness’ calling to care of those in need to today, the focus has been on compassion and excellent quality of care for those who call Bethesda home.