Stanwood nursing home marks 100 years

STANWOOD — John Hals built the Josephine Old People’s Home in the midst of great loss.

His young wife, Josephine Hals, died giving birth to their son. The baby died, too.

His first wife, Elizabeth, and their two infants had died earlier.

Hals was alone.

In his grief, he reached out.

With the fortune he’d amassed running sawmills in the Stanwood area, the Norwegian immigrant decided to build the community’s first nursing home. In 1907, he donated $10,000 to the Norwegian Lutheran Church to build a care facility in Stanwood.

A year later, between 1,000 and 1,500 people turned out to dedicate the newly built wood house to Josephine Hals.

It was the first Lutheran nursing home on the West Coast, according to Josephine administrators.

Twenty-three poor men and women with nowhere to go in their old age moved in. Two staff members came to the home daily to cook and clean.

Over the last century, Hals’ dream has grown.

The original building was torn down around 1949 and a brick nursing facility was erected. Later, three stories’ worth of assisted-living suites and nursing space were built. Classrooms that enable kids to make crafts and visit with the elderly were added.

Today, Josephine Sunset Home has 255 employees, 160 nursing home residents, 57 people living in assisted living suites, 244 children in day care and a Montessori classroom for 4- and 5-year-olds. (The day care started for employees but has grown to include other children in the community.)

This year, the facility in downtown Stanwood turns 100. It is one of only a handful of the 240 licensed nursing homes in Washington to reach its centennial, said Deb Murphy, chief executive of the Washington Association of Housing and Services for the Aging.

The community is celebrating its birthday with events throughout the year, beginning with a program Sunday. A worship service is planned for 4 p.m. at Josephine Sunset Home. In honor of Hals’ Norwegian heritage, a dinner of lefse, pickled herring and meatballs will follow. At 6 p.m., a centennial program with speakers including local politicians and Mike Gregoire, husband of Gov. Chris Gregoire, is scheduled. There may also be Norwegian dancing.

The facility survived through tight years, in part, because of donations from Lutheran churches and Stanwood residents.

In the early 1900s, farmers donated crops to help feed the residents. Women baked bread and made jams for the residents.

“We say the ground here is blessed,” said Josephine administrator Marilyn Kennedy.

Today, Stanwood residents donate Wii video games and television sets. They come to the facility to sing songs and lead residents in craft activities.

“I love it,” said resident Allen Dow, 47, after playing baseball on Josephine’s Wii. “When my mother came in the building, she felt love — really. That means she wanted me in here. It’s the best place.”

Ruth Painter worked in Josephine Sunset Home decades before she moved there. In the 1970s, she washed clothes for the facility.

It’s grown so much since then that Painter, 84, sometimes feels lost in the maze of hallways. Nonetheless, when she starting having health problems, she knew immediately where she wanted to go. She says she’s happy at Josephine’s.

“I’m a practical old soul, and I don’t want to run around my place and maybe take another fall,” she said, eating lunch with friends in the dining room. “I wanted to move in with people and do my thing.”

In 1914, John Hals married again; this time to Anna Larson. He helped raise her son, Harold Larson. They traveled to Norway and settled on a farm in Stanwood. Hals outlived his wife.

His dreamed outlived them both.

Josephine Sunset Home continues to grow.

Reporter Kaitlin Manry: 425-339-3292 or kmanry@heraldnet.com.

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