|Photo by Holly McCray
Gail and Don Frost wave from the third floor of Epworth Villa’s new Independent Living Wing in mid-December. From Arkansas, they are among its first residents. They learned online about the retirement community in Oklahoma City.
Speakers at the Nov. 22 dedication service at Epworth Villa are, from left, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett; Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.; Epworth Living President John Harned; Nick Harroz, who chairs the Epworth Living Board of Directors; and state Rep. Randy McDaniel.
Photo provided by Epworth Living
By Holly McCray
A wall display in the lobby of Epworth Villa honors the late Charles Wells. A pastor and district superintendent, Rev. Dr. Wells is credited with founding this United Methodist-related center for senior living in Oklahoma City.
From that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1-2), he surely smiled as the community dedicated its newest building. The Nov. 22 event took place amid even more construction on the 40-acre campus.
In that moment’s pause, Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. asked God to bless the three-story Independing Living building and "everyone who goes in and goes out, all those who made it possible."
The ceremony was vital in the life of Epworth Villa, said President John Harned. "It’s important to ask the bishop to come in and consecrate that space for the service that it will undertake."
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett praised the investment in "a culture of wellness." He recalled visiting a peer at the retirement center. "I want to thank Epworth Villa for taking such good care of Mayor (Patience) Latting for so many years." She died in December 2012.
Epworth Living is the nonprofit corporation that has evolved from Wells’ vision more than 20 years ago. In addition to Epworth Villa, the company operates Epworth at Home, offering home nursing care and hospice service, and The Ranch, a retirement community in Stillwater.
About 425 people call Epworth Villa home. When the $65 million campus makeover is complete, the resident total will reach almost 550.
"What we’re trying to do is change the culture, lead the way in Oklahoma" in successful aging, Harned said.
Underscore that by noting Epworth Villa’s purpose: "Enhancing lives so people thrive."
"All this is based on research," Harned said. He earned two degrees in accounting and a degree in theology.
"How do we live the best life up until the end? If we nurture the mind, body, soul, and spirit in an environment that supports all that, we can live longer with a better quality of life. Successful aging."
As he led a tour at Epworth Villa, Harned’s enthusiasm for serving seniors was evident. Residents frequently stopped him to greet him. That’s among Harned’s goals: to draw people out into spaces where they interact more.
"We are changing the way care is delivered both architecturally and interpersonally," he explained. Institutional models in aging services are giving way to communities with "town centers" and "households."
Each of the 36 Independent Living apartments is two-bedroom, two-bath, with 9-foot ceilings. Each has a balcony, generous closet space, and washer/dryer. Underground parking doubles as a storm shelter. Signage and color-coded halls enhance "wayfinding," Harned’s term. Six floor plans and decorating options are offered. Apartment sizes range up to about 1,600 square feet.
The Resident Council at Epworth Villa provided input.
"There is a lot of planning, and we’re a prayerful group," Harned said. "We pray that we can work together to find the best results. We listen to our residents. They’ve been through a lot more life than I have."
More signs of change
The 2014 Oklahoma Annual Conference delegates will vote on a new statement of relationship with Epworth Living. New logos have been introduced. The website was changed to www.epworthvilla.org, to emphasize the entity’s nonprofit status.
"This is a new dawning," Harned said, pointing to the Epworth Villa sunburst logo. "We’re expanding; we’re doing all these wonderful things."
Visible affiliation to United Methodism will continue. Exterior signs still display the UM cross-and-flame. In storage due to the construction, the large sculpture of a circuit-riding preacher will be returned to the main campus entry. A smaller circuit-rider continues in his post on the weathervane atop a cupola.
St. Luke’s links with chapel
Live-streaming worship is new, in Epworth Villa’s Brill Chapel each Sunday morning. Chaplain Lisa Crone welcomed the opportunity to network with OKC-St. Luke’s.
The church records sermons by Senior Pastor Bob Long for TV, to air one week later. Some Epworth Villa residents faithfully tune in from their living quarters. Some of them also participate in an ecumenical Sunday School session in the chapel, concluding before the televised sermon.
But the broadcast schedule recently changed, conflicting with Sunday School.
Endowment funds have provided residents with an even better option. Now they can watch the St. Luke's service live on a screen in the chapel or on a closed-circuit TV channel.
And Sunday School can continue on schedule.
Kenneth and Evelyn Brill established endowments for both St. Luke’s and Brill Chapel. Their gifts truly are bearing fruit, Rev. Crone said.
St. Luke’s Christmas Eve service also was live-streamed to residents.
Viewers in the chapel respond as the live service unfolds, Crone said. "When they baptize a baby, the people say, ‘Ahhhh…’ They sing along. We are interactive."
She serves Holy Communion when it also is celebrated by St. Luke’s.
Three new ministries "came into fruition much sooner than we anticipated" for the chapel team, Crone said.
In addition to the live-streaming, associate chaplain Jessica Tanner, a student of Saint Paul School of Theology, has joined the staff; and a Stephen Ministries program launched.