Archived Story

Harnden grew up at I-Deal

Published 8:50am Tuesday, April 6, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Growing up in a nursing home from age 9 “gave me a real healthy respect for the elderly,” Sharon Harnden says.

“I loved it,” she said. “I remember my sister-in-law coming in one time with a brand-new suit on. She went over to Josie and said, ‘Don’t you like my new suit?’ She looked at it and said, ‘Looks like an old floor covering I had.’

“I helped in the kitchen, and when I turned 14, I became their night cook. That was the light meal and that was after the new section had been added on. The full kitchen from the two-story farmhouse was put in the basement of the new section. You fixed the trays and sent them up on a dumb-waiter.”

Sharon also did manicures for a few women. She particularly remembers a woman with multiple sclerosis who “loved to have her nails done. The 13 grandkids all have memories of the nursing home. They weren’t allowed to run in the hallways or Grandma would nab you, but the patients loved the kids. We had a dog when we moved in, but we had to keep Mitzi separate. She either went up in our living quarters or out in the bear pen” in that pre-pet therapy era.

“I had a tame  rabbit called Lucky who lived in the bear pen. I don’t know how, but he (tunneled) clear under the nursing home and came out in the fenced-in area,” Harnden said. “When Mom and Dad bought it, the laundry was out in the garage. They finally farmed it out. I have a picture at home that shows Rose Laundry parked in the driveway. We had a round drive in front of the farmhouse.”

Out back, she learned to drive.

Sharon  remembers participating in junior police academy when Ken McLeod was police chief of the department based in the Beckwith Building, now Beckwith Park.

Harnden serves on Atrium Centers’ Community Advisory Board as the Columbus, Ohio, company, rebuilds Dowagiac Nursing Home, which closed in 2007, as The Timbers of Cass County, 55432 Colby St. (782-7828), for a summer reopening.

“I’m glad to see Atrium including the city and surrounding area,” said Harnden, who attended the wet, windy groundbreaking on Friday, Oct. 30, 2009. “They’re a bunch of nice guys to talk to … It’s going to be a beautiful place.”

Sharon’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Owen E. (Lucille) Deal bought I-Deal Nursing Home on July 1, 1951, from Dr. Sherman L. Loupee.

“Mom took care of his wife,” Harnden said. “When she died, he told Mom Helen Lohroff wanted to sell” the rest home previously known as Helen’s Haven.

“Mom was a licensed practical nurse and Dr. Sherman was kind of a silent partner who helped them get it, and they paid it off and went from there.”

The Deal family moved into town from Sister Lakes.

When the Deals took over, the nursing home, situated at the end of Colby Street on a knoll overlooking Dowagiac, was staffed by four employees and could accommodate a maximum of 15 patients.

Through a renovation and construction program completed in conjunction with their fifth anniversary, capacity grew to 26 and increased staffing to 11.

The new wing covered approximately 2,800 square feet and consisted of 10 single patient rooms, each with its own bath, a nurses station and a large sun room to which the bedridden could be wheeled mornings and evenings to watch television.

Constructed of concrete blocks and roofed with asphalt shingles, the new wing’s interior was finished in plaster on plaster board, a fire-resistant combination painted in blended pastels.

I-Deal Nursing Home, Mr. Deal said at the time, took patients with long-term illness who were visited by physicians of their own choice.

It was “utilized by all Dowagiac medical men.”

Mr. Deal said further that a representative of the state’s bureau of social welfare had praised his institution as “second to none in Michigan.”

A patient, Mrs. Jessie Clarke, recuperating in the new wing with a broken hip, seconded this by describing the home to the Daily News as a “wonderful place to be if you’re sick.”
Mr. Deal chaired the Tri-County Nursing Home Association.

Proud of his progress to date, he intended to continue his improvement program with an occupational therapy room in the new wing’s basement, where space was provided for that purpose.

He also hoped to supplement recreational facilities already provided by the sun room and the 13 acres of grounds.

“The upstairs was our living quarters,” Sharon said. “My mom, my dad and two brothers. The third one was just getting ready to go into the service.” She has four brothers, Bob, Ken, Jim and Chuck.

“Bob was a freshman and I was a fourth grader when we moved in. I went to three-story Oak Street in Dowagiac,” where Justus Gage Elementary School is today, and Bob attended Central.

Sharon graduated in 1960.

I-Deal wasn’t built as a nursing home, but as a farmhouse.

“I don’t think the farmhouse came down until they built Schato” 40 years ago in 1970.
Mayor Dr. James E. Burke presided over the belated ribbon-cutting ceremony in February 1971.

“There was a barn and a chicken coop and they raced horses. They even had a bear out there at one time in a pen with a cement block enclosure all the way around,” she recalled. “The house was in town, the barn was in the county, because I couldn’t ride the (school) bus.”

Sharon still lives on the Wayne Township side of Colby Street, where she has resided for 43 years.

“I haven’t moved very far,” she added. “I moved to where (daughter) Carol lives now when she was born, then we bought the house where we’re at.”

“I got involved” with Atrium “when they tore the old section down – the yellow building,” Harnden said April 2. “I wanted them to save ‘my dad’s tree.’ It usually has beautiful colors in the fall. I talked to my brothers (April 1) and we don’t know if we want to put a bench as a memorial to Mom and Dad or just a plaque.”

What was torn down was the block wing added to the original farmhouse in 1957, she said. “Daddy died in ’58, right after the new one was built. (The tree) is the last memory I have of him.”

Her mother died in 1988.

Sharon lived there until she was 20, when she married.

She didn’t move far, however.

“I don’t know who built it, but there was a two-story ‘playhouse’ for the Lohroff girls. My mom and dad converted it into an apartment, so most of us kids lived there at one time. Upstairs was one big room you divided off like you wanted it. Downstairs was the kitchen, the bath and a garage. It had a full barn, where we played basketball. There was a baseball field west of the nursing home. The patients came out and looked.”

“Ken and my dad wired the nursing home,” Sharon said. “My dad was an electrician by trade.”

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