The history of St. Paul Elder Services dates back to 1890, when Oscar Thilmany, founder of Thilmany Pulp and Paper Company in Kaukauna, built a mansion on Wisconsin Avenue on the north side of the river. Monroe Wertheimer, the second president of Thilmany, purchased the home in 1910. It remained in the Wertheimer family until 1939 when Robert, son of Monroe Wertheimer, gave the mansion to Bishop Paul Rhode of the Green Bay Diocese. The Bishop accepted the gift without a plan for its eventual use and sought out a religious order to take the home and use it for some kind of charity. The Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity of Manitowoc responded to his request.
In 1940, the Sisters established a visiting nurse center for the poor, and for several years, they took care of the needs of many. However, the venture was doomed because it was not self-supporting. In 1943, when the Sisters were about to give up, Joseph C. McCarty, a contractor, and Bert Fargo, a furniture merchant, and others asked the Sisters to take in Mrs. Edith Grignon, the last of the historical family whose home now is a historic landmark. Thus, St. Paul Home for the Aged was established and named in honor of the Bishop who gifted the Sisters with the mansion and the opportunity to serve the people of Kaukauna.
Mrs. Grignon moved into the home on September 13, 1943. This date marks the “official” beginning of St. Paul Elder Services and is celebrated as Founders’ Day. Soon, more elderly women joined Edith. The home held accommodations for eighteen women on the second floor, while the Sisters made their home on the third floor.
In the 1960s, federal and state codes concerning nursing homes became stricter. An order was received from the State of Wisconsin directing that non-ambulatory persons had to be housed in fire-resistant buildings; St. Paul Home for the Aged did not meet the standard.
By this time the Sisters’ commitment to the elderly of the Fox River Valley had grown. Sister Ambrosette was the Administrator throughout the 1960s. Her leadership brought new development of the Home, and it was formally incorporated on February 11, 1960. A capital fund drive began in 1961-62 and a Lay Advisory Board was formed. A gift of $48,000 (very sizable for that time) provided a “jump-start” to the campaign. Construction began in 1963 on a new, fire-resistant wing replacing the ballroom that had served as the first chapel. On September 1, 1964, residents moved into the 54-bed wing. Soon there was a long waiting list for admission to the Home. At one point the waiting list had over 250 names on it.
By 1965, the Home was licensed by the State of Wisconsin as a skilled nursing facility, becoming known as simply “St. Paul Home.” By choice in 1978, the licensed bed capacity was reduced from 54 to 52 beds.
In 1984, St. Paul Home purchased the home of Neil McCarty, which adjoined the Home’s property. This became the residence for Sisters who staffed the Home. The second floor of the original mansion of the late Oscar Thilmany was renovated to provide private living quarters for seven ambulatory persons. This part of the building became known as St. Paul Manor, a service of St. Paul Home.
The same year, the Wisconsin Board of Health and Social Services recommended the upgrading and expansion of the Home that would meet the needs of its residents more effectively. A feasibility study on replacing the 1964 plans was done by Franciscan Health Advisory Services, Inc., in conjunction with the St. Paul Home Board of Directors. In 1987, a Development and Public Relations Council was formed to provide not only for the Home’s immediate needs, but also to set guidelines for establishing a system by which the Home’s future needs could be addressed and met.
On September 4, 1985, after the feasibility study showed that the needs of St. Paul Home’s most frail residents would best be met in a new facility, the Franciscan Health Advisory Services officers visited the Riverview Health Center in Kaukauna with the intention of purchasing the facility. In August 1987, bids for the Riverview Health Center were submitted, and by February 1988, approval was received for the construction of a new St. Paul Home, which would combine the beds, assets, and associates of both the existing St. Paul Home and the newly acquired Riverview Health Center. In March 1988, the incorporation of FHAS/Riverview Health Center occurred.
On April 23, 1988, construction of a 129-bed facility began at a new site on Oakridge Avenue, adjacent and connected to the Kaukauna Community Hospital. The cornerstone was laid on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, January 25, 1989. The facility opened its doors on July 10, 1989. Bishop Adam Maida later dedicated the new St. Paul Home that same year on October 21, 1989.
When the new St. Paul Home was being built, a study already underway was considering the feasibility of renovating the entire original St. Paul Home building on Wisconsin Avenue as a Manor for assisted living for the elderly. The renovation became a reality in 1989-90 as the entire vacated facility was prepared for twenty-six residents. The St. Paul Manor was ready for occupancy in September 1990.
With the construction and renovation completed, St. Paul Home and St. Paul Manor continued to develop a strong reputation for the care of the elderly within the Fox River Valley. Under the active involvement of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, a reputation for excellence and compassion evolved to the point where extensive waiting lists accumulated for both facilities. The 1990s proved to be a period for expanding services, as the acuity of residents admitted to St. Paul Home continued to increase.
In April of 1996, Affinity Health System closed the Kaukauna Community Hospital, as it no longer proved to be a financially viable operation. In August 1996, Affinity approached St. Paul Home to explore potential joint ventures with regard to the former Kaukauna Community Hospital. These discussions led to the decision by the Board of Directors of St. Paul Home to purchase the vacant hospital. In March of 1997, St. Paul Home, Inc. acquired the hospital building and immediately began an evaluation process to determine the best uses for the 1955 building. This process included a demographic analysis of community needs and site evaluation to determine the physical requirements of the building. It was at the December 1997 meeting that the Board of Directors decided the most cost effective way to meet community needs was to replace the hospital with new construction.
On December 6th, 1998 ground was broken for the new 50,000 square foot replacement building, which included St. Paul Villa, a 34-apartment residential care apartment complex, Appletree Court, part of the Passages dementia care program, the Haen Community Center, and new a therapy department.
In December 1999, the Board of Directors changed the corporate name of St. Paul Home, Inc. to St. Paul Elder Services, Inc. This change reflected the broader scope of services provided within the elder campus to an increasing population of senior citizens in the Heart of the Valley.
Bishop Robert Banks celebrated the dedication liturgy in the new chapel of St. Paul Home. Demand for St. Paul Villa units was so great that the apartment complex achieved full occupancy by June of 2000.
St. Paul Villa continued to enjoy a waiting list for admissions, and through the addition of this level of housing, the continuum of care provided on the campuses of St. Paul Elder Services was more fully expanded. In January of 2003, the Board of Directors evaluated the continuing demand for services provided by the organization and approved a plan to add 55 additional apartments to St. Paul Villa, bringing the total number of assisted living apartments to 89. The additional apartments opened in September 2003, and due to the consistent demand, were filled by September 2004. Bishop Robert Banks dedicated the expansion on September 6, 2003.
The second phase of construction for St. Paul Villa also included a warm water therapy pool and the Life Enrichment Center. Under the leadership of Sister Joy Rose, St. Paul Elder Services began offering adult day care services and other outreach services to the community.
That same year, the Center of Rehabilitation (COR) Unit was formally opened. Father Richard Klingheisen, Diocesan Health Care Liaison to the Bishop, served as celebrant of the ceremony, and the ribbon cutting was performed by Dave Gitter, Chairman of the Board of Directors. This state-of-the art specialty unit was designed to care for patients needing to recover successfully from debilitating surgeries or medical events.
In 2007, the Board of Directors approved development of St. Paul Hospice Services. The addition of this program would fully complement the scope of services consistent with the mission and philosophy of our founding. St. Paul Hospice Services later became Medicare-certified in 2009.
In 2008, the Board of Directors approved a plan to phase out operations of St. Paul Manor due to declining occupancy and excessive expenses associated with upgrading the facility to current code compliance. In 2009, an estate sale was conducted at the site of St. Paul Manor to dispose of furnishings and to provide the community with the opportunity to walk through the building to gain a greater understanding of the building condition that led to the decision to close the facility.
In 2009, the Board of Directors approved the implementation of “St. Paul At Home,” further expanding home- and community-based services program to support individuals wishing to remain in their own home for as long as possible, using the latest in technological advances.
In early 2011 the Board of Directors approved the demolition of the historic St. Paul Manor. Demolition took place in June of 2011, and the Board commissioned an extensive study of market needs and demographic trends to get a better grasp of unmet needs in the service area in an effort to determine how to proceed with the three-acre Wisconsin Avenue property.
In April of 2012, St. Paul Elder Services opened a Memory Care Clinic through a grant from the Helen Bader Foundation, the purpose of which is to provide memory loss diagnostic services as early as possible and align patients and families with supportive services to maintain a safe and independent lifestyle.
In 2013, Master Planning for facilities and land use got underway, and in 2014, the Board of Directors approved a plan to construct a 12-bed addition to the COR unit and to completely renovate the entire campus, including expansions of the main chapel and the Villa dining room. After much consideration, the Board determined that the former St. Paul Manor property was no longer needed by the organization, and the decision was made to sell the property and use the proceeds to continue to expand the ministry and service offerings on the main campus, a testament to the original intent of the Wisconsin Avenue property donation. In 2015, the St. Paul Manor property was sold to a private party.
Also in 2015, the COR addition and the campus renovation projects were completed, and the Board approved the construction of a 24-bed memory-care specific Community Based Residential Facility, which would once again complete the continuum of care offered by St. Paul Elder Services. That facility, now named St. Paul Manor in honor of the original facility, broke ground in September of 2015, and opened in June, 2016, achieving full occupancy within weeks due to the demand. St. Paul Manor includes a lower level, which is the home to a memory care resource center, in which the multitude of dementia care programs offered within our Passages program are housed, all of which are designed to slow the progression of dementia and memory loss and to support those living in the community with memory loss and their care partners.
St. Paul Elder Services continues to be a vibrant organization since our founding in 1943. This healing ministry is enriched through the leadership of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity, a dedicated Board of Directors, and dedicated associates, volunteers, and contributors who are the hands of Jesus, ministering to those within and beyond our campus.