Celebrate Our Beginnings
Various Members of Becketwood
Minnesota and Wisconsin have declared October “Co-op Month.” We’d like to celebrate by taking a look at our own Co-op’s history, as compiled by Becketwood Members in 2006 for our (then) 20th Anniversary.
In the fall of 1980, the Episcopal Church Home (ECH) Board established a task force to review its purpose and philosophy and to create a long-range plan. A professional advisor was hired to conduct a broad ranging study. In 1981, the board accepted the report resulting from this study; its two main findings, still pertinent today, were:
- A need for housing for persons nearing retirement age, specifically 55 or older
- Said facility to be a cooperative
The ECH board commissioned a development committee of ten women to implement plans for establishing a Senior Housing Cooperative. Inspired by the success of 7500 York (a cooperative for senior citizens that the Ebenezer Society had developed), the board had already considered building a similar facility in either Ramsey or Hennepin Counties.
As the development committee began its search for a building site early in 1982, it also needed to choose an architectural firm. In March, the committee selected Hammel, Green, and Abrahamson and forcefully communicated this prime directive: “We do not want a brick box!!”
As these decisions were being made, the Sheltering Arms Orphanage board was considering shutting down the school, selling its land and buildings, and using the funds to establish a foundation benefiting children’s programs. From within the Episcopal Church Home family, the idea emerged that Sheltering Arms’ twelve and a half acres of land on the West River parkway in Minneapolis would be especially appropriate for a new cooperative. The Episcopal Church Home subsequently purchased it for approximately $1,000,000.
Sister Annette Relf, an Episcopal deaconess who founded the Episcopal Church Home, had also founded Sheltering Arms as an orphanage one hundred years earlier, in 1882.
The brick orphanage building, constructed in 1910 on this wooded site overlooking the Mississippi River, was operated under the auspices of the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota until 1942. It was then converted to a Sister Kenny Treatment Center for people recovering from polio.
In 1955, building use changed again as it became a Minneapolis day school and research program for children who were then referred to as mentally retarded. Becketwood Member Florence Burk was a physical therapist at the school; Member Evelyn Deno, as head of special education for the city schools, set up the program. This school continued to use the building until 1982. By the time Sheltering Arms was closed, the weathered brick walls had harbored orphans, polio victims, and children with special needs for more than seventy-two years.
With the site established and the design firm selected, the development committee began dealing with architectural plans and chose Bor-Son as the construction company. Fortuitously, Bor-Son eventually became a guarantor of the project along with ECH.
One hundred seventeen individuals or couples then had to commit up to twenty-five thousand dollars in cash and to commit to paying ongoing monthly fees for an apartment they’d never seen, in a building that didn’t exist. As the deadline approached, over ninety people had bought shares, while others weren’t ready to commit. The Church Home board turned to its strongest supporters, who had the courage to help get us over the top by buying a share, even though they didn’t plan to live there. With the help and encouragement of the banker Carl Pohlad, all remaining shares were sold to owner-occupants.
Tom Moss, Executive Director and Administrator of ECH from 1983-1989, recalled the risks taken:
My favorite definition of courage is ‘acting for a purpose in the face of fear.’ It took a lot of courage from Becketwood’s first owners, and its sponsor, to get it built. The first owners had the courage to put money down on a future home they couldn’t see or touch. Several non-occupant sponsors were brave enough to also buy shares, and ultimately the Episcopal Church Home put itself at great risk to make sure Becketwood was a success. In 1983, Becketwood was just a piece of land, some drawings, and some good ideas about what kind of living opportunity it would become. As a senior cooperative with a government-backed mortgage, however, we were given a major challenge – sell 50% of the shares – 117 of them, by a given deadline- before we could get money to start building. The Episcopal Church Home had to guarantee all of the operating and financing costs until all 234 units at Becketwood were sold.
The Development Committee continued to meet weekly for more than a year. After receiving approval from the Minneapolis City Council to change the zoning laws, a groundbreaking ceremony was held on December 10, 1984, and serious planning for Becketwood’s governance began. A representative of the City Council attended board meetings for a period of six years.
As a Becketwood sponsor, ECH had to make financial guarantees including monthly payments on unsold units for a period of three years after the building opened. They continued this obligation beyond the three-year guarantee. During that time an ECH incurred a debt of more than $2,000,000. A settlement, negotiated between ECH and Becketwood to stop payments and gain some reimbursement from capital items, was finalized in 1993 in the amount of $144,000, and Becketwood became a financially independent facility to be run by its own elected Board of Directors.
The Sheltering Arms site provided a very special piece of land for the new Becketwood Cooperative, a place for those fifty-five years and older who desire a simplified independent lifestyle. The stone pillars at the East entrance are still engraved with “Sheltering Arms.” From orphanage to hospital to school to Cooperative Housing for seniors, this special place has been serving the needs of one community as it evolved to serve those of another.