Stafholtfills community need with heart and warmth

Published on Thu, Feb 16, 2006 by TaraNelson

Read More News

Stafholt fills community need with heart and warmth

By Tara Nelson

The Stafholt Good Samaritan Center, a nursing and assisted living home in Blaine, traces its roots back to a group of dedicated Blaine citizens and generous donations from individuals throughout Whatcom County.
In 1944, a chapter of the Icelandic National League of North America in Blaine formed a special committee to study the feasibility of opening an “old folks home” for its residents of Icelandic descent, according to an undated article clipping from the former Blaine Journal newspaper.

The group - then called “Aldan” - quickly raised more than $7,000 in donations from the Blaine, Point Roberts and Bellingham communities, but that amount was far from enough. A few years later, Aldan acquired the financial support of Stoneson Bros. Builders of San Francisco, the owners of which were originally from Blaine. Stoneson Bros. donated $10,000 along with the services of their architect, which helped get the project off the ground.

In January 1949, the Stafholt Icelandic Old Folks Home opened near the corner of 3rd and D streets. In the 1950s, two additional wings were constructed; another 20-bed infirmary was added in 1960; and a fourth wing with 16 new rooms was added in 1977.

The center became part of the Good Samaritan Society, a Canadian non-profit health care program with Lutheran affiliations in 1991, and moved to its current location at 456 C Street.

In the center’s beginning years, preference for admission was given to Icelandic people or those married to people of Icelandic descent. Blaine reverend A.E. Krisjansson explained to Stafholt founder Einar Simonarson, also a board member of the Blaine Icelandic Day Committee in the early ‘70s, that the purpose was to provide comforts specifically tailored to their Icelandic heritage.

“We knew that many of our people, now growing old, were born in Iceland and they still lived in and by the memories of their Icelandic cultural heritage. We would spare them the loneliness of state institutions by building a home for them where they could find comfort in living over again experiences common to them all, read Icelandic papers and sing their childhood songs together.”

Old customs were kept alive and at traditional celebrations, residents sung Iceland’s national anthem, “O Gud Bors Lands” and the cooks revived Icelandic dishes such as vina terta, a prune cake, kleineurs, donut twists, and hangikjot, or smoked mutton, according to Simonarson’s writings.

Shortly before opening, the Aldan group wrote a constitution and the by-laws of the institution - which were strict at best, often referring to their residents as “inmates.” “Each inmate agrees to show respect and obedience to the matron in charge of the home, and to be sociable and friendly with other inmates, and the staff, should they have any complaint or requests, they shall make them to the matron only and abide by her decision,” according to page 18 of the former by-laws.
“The rules were really patronizing,” said Wayne Weinschenk, the current administrator who joined Stafholt in July. “Today, we’re expected to uphold all the rights an individual would have outside the facility. You can’t tell people what to do or how to do it.”

Stafholt’s rules have, in fact, become much gentler for patients in the past 50 years. Staff are not allowed to refer to residents as inmates, admittance is given to people from all ethnic backgrounds, and much of the institution’s living quarters function in the manner of independent, individual apartments with special rooms reserved for more high-maintenance residents. Although the center receives a portion of its funding from the Good Samaritan Society, a Lutheran organization, Weinschenk said the center is inclusive to all religions and Lutheran teachings are not forced upon their residents.

“We’re very ecumenical, ” he said. “We don’t get too doctrinaire; we’re in the comfort business instead. ”

The institution has also contributed immensely to the Blaine community, offering generous scholarships to employees, volunteers who put in more than 54 hours of donated time, and to the residents of Stafholt residents. Their in-house nursing assistant certification program offers paid training for employees and their staff frequently work with Blaine high school students to complete their junior and senior class projects. Many of those students keep coming back or eventually become employed there, said Marsha Hawkins, a former city council member and community relations person at the center.

In addition, the center helps coordinate the Stafholt Giving Tree along with the Blaine Chamber of Commerce, a program that helps distribute donations of toys and clothes to low income children in the area during Christmas time, along with many other in-house activities for the community and residents.

The Stafholt Good Samaritan Center is a non-profit organization and is always looking for volunteers to help with a variety of activities. Individuals who are interested in Stafholt’s nursing certification program or in volunteering can call 332-8733.

The next nursing certification program will begin in early March, Hawkins said.