Waupaca’s Bethany Home name dates back to its inception in August 1895, when the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Synod (better known as the Blaire Synod) decided to inaugurate a Christian welfare program for orphaned, indigent and neglected children.
Albert Lea, Minnesota was chosen as the first site for the new children’s home. At first a dwelling house was rented to provide temporary housing until the new home was built. When the new building was completed and made ready for the big move, it was named “Bethania Bornerjem,” Danish for Bethany Children’s Home. It was through the influence and encouragement of her pastor that Mrs. Ane Petersen, who had just recently become a widow, took the position as the home’s first Matron. At the annual convention held in Blair, Nebraska, in July 1897, it was voted to move the Bethany Children’s Home from Albert Lea to Waupaca. The Danish people of Waupaca all pulled together and raised $600 to help defray the expense of moving and purchasing the new property on which to erect the new children’s home. September 7, 1897, the United Evangelical Lutheran Church purchased approximately 30 acres of land from Henry Warren and Fredrick Dunbar for $1,400. This property is located from the banks of the Crystal River to the southeastern shore of Shadow Lake on the old Berlin Road. The new children’s home was completed in 1899 at a cost of $2,400, including the equipment and furnishings, and accommodated about 40 children. In October 1899, it was officially opened and it was not long before the Bethany’s Children’s Home population grew to 33.
Ideas and times change policies and in the early 1950’s, it became apparent that the children could be placed in foster homes to a better advantage, so the orphanage operation was phased out. In 1953, at the annual Wisconsin District Convention of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church, a directive was made to arrange for the incorporation of Bethany as an operating Christian home for the aged, using the facilities of the Children’s Home. Pastor A. S. Petersen, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Waupaca, and president of the Wisconsin District, U.E.L.C. at that time, conducted the first organizational meetings. IN later years, Pastor Petersen served as the nursing home’s chaplain.
Bethany Home began its operations as a retirement home in 1954 with 18 guests, a budget of less than $4,000 and an abundance of faith. The number of guests increased rapidly; the waiting list grew longer and the State Board of Health standards more stringent making it imperative that the Home expand and modernize. In April 1960, ground was broken for a modern, enlarged home, located on beautiful Shadow Lake. Guests moved into the modern quarters in October, 1961and the new Bethany Home was dedicated on December 3, 1961, “To the Glory of God.”
The latter part of the 20th century brought an increase in the demand for senior housing. In 1982, construction began on independent living homes on the peninsula between Shadow Lake and the Crystal River. With services such as lawn care, snow removal and maintenance included, the Shadow Woods units offered all the comforts of home without the responsibility of home ownership to area seniors. By 2004, a total of 40 duplex units were complete and occupied.
Recognizing the growing need for multiple options for senior care, Bethany constructed the Bethany Pines in 1992—20 apartments that are connected to the existing skilled nursing facility, along with a beautiful “Great Room” for dining and hosting larger family gatherings. Originally these units were another option for independent living. But by the mid-90’s the State recognized the changing needs of the aging population and created guidelines for Residential Care Apartment Complexes. Bethany Pines was licensed at that time and began offering this option for those who need some assistance in their everyday lives, but not the level of care offered by a skilled nursing facility.
By the mid-90’s more changes were taking place in the health care industry. It was becoming more cost efficient for nursing homes to provide rehabilitation following accidents or illness, than hospitals could. At this time, Bethany became certified for Medicare claims and contracted for rehabilitation services to be provided on site.
In the spring of 2007, Bethany began offering Outreach Services. This was done to support the needs of those who are not living on the Bethany campus in a way that allows them to live happy, healthy lives in their own homes for as long as possible. Through these programs the community can benefit from Bethany’s expertise stemming from years of caring for those in need. A variety of services to that end have included: support groups for caregivers, educational classes and workshops to help people stay healthy or cope with the changes of aging, bathing care for those who can no longer bathe independently, and a connection to a variety of community resources.
Needless to say, strong faith and endless work by volunteers and staff have been a big part of Bethany Home’s history, and indeed this continues to be so. Bethany Home is now affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Its corporate members include 27 area Lutheran Churches, two Episcopal Churches, one United Methodist Church and one Catholic Church. It is licensed as a Skilled Nursing Facility by the State of Wisconsin with a maximum occupancy at the present time of 104. Bethany Home is now Medicare and Medicaid Certified.
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