Forty years ago, Feb. 4, 1972, the first tenants moved into the newly constructed Kiwanis Manor in downtown Tiffin.
Feb. 4, the manor hosted an anniversary lunch to mark the occasion. The centerpieces featured photos from the building's history, and the program included people who had played a role in its conception, construction and operation.
Beth McFarlan-Hutson, manor director, made introductions of long-time residents, former employees, special guests, trustees and Kiwanis Club members. Following a picnic-style lunch, the gathering heard several speakers. The first was Shirley Smith, president of the board of directors, who spoke of the meeting Dec. 5, 1966, when the idea of building a senior citizens center first was discussed.
When it became a reality, Kiwanis Club was fortunate to have good directors to oversee the building, she said.
"Without them, this wouldn't be what it is today. At the time, Kiwanis Manor was the largest landlord in the area within a 25-mile radius and continued that way for the next 18 years," Smith said. "When everyone first moved in, things were different. ... as years went by, you came in with a lot more stuff."
Residents now have multiple electronic devices that require more space and electrical service. To meet those needs, the 135 original studio apartments were converted into 98 larger units, starting in the early 1990s. The manor added a service coordinator, more activities, transportation and a beauty shop.
Smith said the residents and staff have a sense of pride that is perceptible to visitors, and government inspectors always are impressed with the condition and appearance of the structure.
Sharon Rigby, president of Kiwanis Club, thanked everyone present for their roles in making Kiwanis Manor an outstanding facility.
Following her was attorney Tom Eberly, who reviewed some of the challenges the Kiwanis Club faced in undertaking the project that would become Kiwanis Manor. Eberly said the club "over-achieved" in acting on the club motto, "We build," and then persevered until they completed it. The 40th anniversary was supposed to be a milestone.
"I told everybody when we began that I wanted to live long enough to attend the 40th because the note would be paid off," Eberly said. "But they re-financed it twice. This next one pending right now is for $1.6 million, so I'm afraid I'm not going to make it until the notes are paid off."
Laying the foundation
At the outset, Kiwanis members wanted to build a meeting place for senior citizens at the county fairgrounds. Eberly said the club soon realized the project would need to generate enough income to be self-sustaining. The plan was changed to include a building that could house a senior center and apartments.
A committee of six men was formed. They spoke on the radio and did interviews for the newspaper. Both media managed to put a negative slant on the project, he said. A survey provided public input.
"We got 800 survey responses, and the main thing from the survey was that they wanted a 'nice' building. They did not want a low-income building," Eberly said.
The club approached the consultant who had been involved in the Sandusky Kiwanis' senior housing project. The committee borrowed money from Tiffin Kiwanians to cover the retainers for the consultant and an architect. Two non-profit corporations were formed - one for the senior center and one for the housing complex.
Eberly described multiple hurdles in purchasing the real estate at 7 W. Market St., and obtaining a zoning change.
"We had to duke it out at a zoning hearing. The city was 100 percent supportive, but it was stressful to go through that," he said.
Next, the club had to solicit letters of support from the city and county officials and citizens to submit with the application to build the manor. They received 250 letters, but the club also had to underwrite 25 percent of the working capital budget for the building if the occupancy ever went below 75 percent.
"After all we'd done, I found that out, and I had to go to the club and ask them that. It was unanimous. They agreed to underwrite it," Eberly said.
Multiple meetings ensued in Tiffin, Chicago and Columbus with the Internal Revenue Service, Housing and Urban Development, Federal Housing Authority, Kiwanis officials, the title insurance company and other entities.
Finally, everything was official. Eberly said he remembered the club purchased some kilns that had to be salvaged from a building that burned down. The kilns were brought to the manor for recreational activities. Eberly concluded by urging foresight and leadership to ensure the future of Kiwanis Manor.
Adjusting to needs
Taking the podium, former director Tom Giebel recalled 40 years ago, he was on the staff in the graphic arts department at Tiffin University. One day, Kiwanian George Dupey dropped off materials for the dedication program for the manor.
"Little did I know, and it certainly was not on my mind, that someday, I would be affiliated with that very same project. ... About 18 months later, I found myself in the position of actually applying for the executive director's job here at Kiwanis Manor. Wouldn't you know it, 38-some years passed by very quickly," Giebel said. "So I had the honor and the privilege to work with those very Kiwanians that had a vision of a project for senior citizens."
At the time, housing specifically for seniors was new. Sandusky was the closest location to have such a facility. There were few places to look at for ideas and direction.
Services of any kind for the elderly were limited in the late 1960s and early '70s. Recipients of Social Security could not expect any increases in their monthly checks. Medicare did not exist until 1965. Seniors who no longer could drive and had no access to public transportation had to rely on family and friends to take them grocery shopping or to medical appointments.
Remaining independent was a challenge. Kiwanis Manor's program served as a model for other agencies and organizations.
"Here we come along, bringing Kiwanis Manor, offering a program of affordable housing, where there is rental assistance," Giebel said. "I have always been proud of the fact of my involvement with providing decent, safe, affordable housing for the elderly."
During his tenure, Giebel saw the need to upgrade the facility to compete with newer, larger housing units being offered to seniors. The manor remains the tallest building in Tiffin, but more importantly, it is a "Tiffin product."
Giebel emphasized the club employed a local contractor and subcontractors. Local laborers did the work, and local vendors supplied the materials.
"That's an important statement to be making," Giebel said.
Although retired, Giebel appears at the manor one day a week to handle accounting duties and to stay in touch with developments at the facility. He expressed amazement at the family atmosphere that exists among the residents. They keep tabs on one another even after they leave the manor, "like one big family."
An estimated 1 million meals have been prepared since the Commission on Aging's meal program started at Kiwanis Manor in 1975. Transportation has been extended to all citizens, not just the elderly. Now a senior himself, Giebel said he is pleased to have such programs available.
He said people ages 55-64 seem to be struggling the most, because they do not qualify for many programs available to Social Security recipients.
Tracking the history
Following Giebel's remarks was an overview of Kiwanis Manor's history by Richard Miller, a former president and still an active member of Kiwanis Club of Tiffin.
Miller, 78, explained his early connections to Kiwanis. Its first president, Dr. Hershberger, had attended Miller's birth. Miller recalled the night he met with five other Kiwanis members who made up the construction board.
"Ken Egbert Sr. was really the pusher for this group. Tom Eberly was the brains and Dick Barth was the money man. Archie Thomas, Red Hartzell and myself were kind of the go-fers," Miller said. "Three of us had to sign a note for over $100,000 in case it didn't go through. ... two put their houses up for collateral."
The site the club wanted was owned by a Kiwanian, Charles Sattler, an automobile dealer. Miller said the building had to be located near a grocery store (the former A&P), a bank and some businesses. At the time, downtown Tiffin was thriving.
During the construction, three members of the Kiwanis board had to resign because of connections with contractors and vendors involved in the project. Hossler Construction of Tiffin was the general contractor, Art Immele's company did the plumbing and Fleck Electric took care of the wiring. Only a few of the workers came from outside of the area.
"We couldn't find enough minority workers to satisfy HUD, so we had to go to Toledo to get help," Miller said.
He was unsure how they were able to get permission to extend the building out over the Sandusky River. The elevators HUD mandated for installation were not satisfactory, and those are to be updated later this year. Kiwanis
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The water heater was another problem.
"We had the biggest tank you have ever seen. It looked like a railroad car sitting back here. Water heater, for the whole building," Miller said.
By the time the heated water reached the 10th floor, it no longer was hot enough for a comfortable shower (Giebel soon made changes to that system). Concrete pouring was going at a snail's pace until Hossler hired an engineer to build special frames that could be jacked up to the next level.
When "topping off" day came, the construction board placed an evergreen tree and a flag on the roof. As they looked down to the ground, the ceremony was commencing without them.
"We were standing on the 10th floor, waving. ... The entire board missed our own ceremony," Miller said.
Another problem arose after the manor opened. Ralph Chapman, the manor's first director, was a great "people person," but not a businessman. After about two years at the helm, he resigned and Tom Giebel was hired.
"That was the best thing we have ever done," Miller said.
Miller's parents resided at the manor, and his father was responsible for installing banisters in the hallways. A picture of his dad - wearing plaid pants, a striped shirt and suspenders - can be seen on the wall at the manor.
Miller said the building is the most memorable project for which he was responsible.
"I'm going to be 79 this summer. I hope you have a room for me," he said.
Preserving past, looking to future
The final speaker was Doug Collar, dean of the honors program at Heidelberg University, who spoke about references to Tiffin in literature. He shared passages from a novel, "A Shadow of Our Own," by the late Charles Locke, who grew up in Tiffin and became a successful writer in New York.
Locke chose Tiffin after World War II as the setting for his story. Although he renamed it Eastgate, the descriptions of the river and businesses along its banks clearly are references to the Tiffin neighborhood where Kiwanis Manor now stands.
McFarlan-Hutson introduced the current staff and former employees who were able to attend the celebration. The most recent improvements at the site include a new outdoor patio and new carpet in the dining room.
The fire protection system and those slow elevators are to receive overhauls in the coming months. The director sent the crowd away with cloth shopping bags as souvenirs of the anniversary.
An open house is to be scheduled later this year. For more information about Kiwanis Manor, Kiwanis Senior Center or the Kiwanis Club of Tiffin, visit www.tiffinkiwanis.org or call (419) 448-4541.