After many years of anticipation, the day finally arrived on July 7 for the Puyallup Tribe to break ground on a new elders assisted living facility. Gathering at the site next to the Tribe’s House of Respect Elders Center, Tribal Council, along with those in the Tribe who have long worked on the project, representatives from ARC Architects, and Andersen Construction representatives, all assembled to take part in the blessing ceremony and to see the first shovels of dirt overturned.
“This has been a dream for a long, long time,” said Puyallup Chairman Bill Sterud. “There are 16 (Puyallup) tribal elders scattered throughout Tacoma and Pierce County in different assisted living places. They’re all going to come home here. They’re going to be around us. They’re going to have that spirit brought back.”
“Like many have said before me, we owe so much to our elders and ancestors and this is one step in that circle of life,” said Tribal Councilember David Bean. “It’s an honor to be part of a community that has brought this vision to life. An important lesson we’re taught at Chief Leschi in circle is that we honor our elders for their wisdom. They’re not cast aside but continue to hold a place of honor within our families and community. This facility is away of honoring those folks who have tread such hard ground – tougher ground than any of us will know – and for that I express gratitude.”
Puyallup Culture Director Connie McCloud echoed these words before she gave the opening prayer. “We have said we’re going to do this for a long time. Our ancestors have been waiting for us to put this into action so that when our elders come home, they know that they’re entering their home. They’ll see the symbols of who we are surrounding them. They’ll smell the air and know that they’re home. They will know that they are sacred and well cared for in a place that surrounds them with love and care. It will allow their relatives and friends to come visit and make them happy just by saying good morning.”
If plans stay on schedule, construction on the facility is expected to be completed by March 2018, all ready for a springtime opening celebration. The facility will be connected to the Tribe’s existing Elders Center so that the residents can enjoy the center’s dining hall and daily meals if they choose, swimming pool, exercise room, socializing, day trips and more. With 21 studios and one-bedroom units, each will be complete with a full kitchen and bathroom offering easy walk-in access for elders’ special bathing needs. There will also be a spa-like bathroom with a walk-in bathtub available for all residents to use. Ground-floor units will have an outdoor patio and second-floor units will have a small balcony.
The facility will be constructed by Andersen Construction and was design by ARC Architects, which has worked with Northwest tribes since the early 1980s on designs that include the Puyallup Tribe’s House of Respect and Wall of Warriors Veterans Memorial, among other projects.
Tribal member Dr. Charlene Matheson has been working zealously on the project since 2010, much of it as special projects manager at the Tribe’s Planning and Land Use Services. She noted that the genesis of the elders’ assisted living facility dates back to 1990, as it was part of the settlement package in the Tribe’s Land Claims Settlement of that year. The Tribal community was so dedicated to honoring and protecting the elders that they made sure it was part of the law that Congress enacted as the Puyallup Tribe’s Land Claims Settlement.
“The elders who live there will be so much more involved in our community.
If I have a loved one up there I’ll visit at lunchtime and see maybe 10 others who wouldn’t have had my company otherwise,” she said looking forward to the facility’s completion. “It’ll be really healing to bring them home and be among us, all of us – the hustle and the bustle and getting to see people that they never get to see when they get too frail to get out.”
She mentioned, too, that the care for elders in their sunset years was a beloved dream of the late Puyallup Tribal Historian Judy Wright, who was known and loved by so many people in Native communities and beyond. Chair of the Tribe’s Elders Board, Judy passed away in 2013. Charlene said Judy sent her this message by email a week before she passed, urging for completion of an elders assisted living facility: “Charlene, promise me you will get this done. It has to be done. Somebody has to care!”
“That’s my persistence,” Charlene said. “Judy said to get it done.”
Other Elders Committee members have also passed away before seeing their dream of an assisted living facility come to fruition: Dave Simchen and Len Ferro. Chairman Sterud expressed much gratitude for them. In addition, he thanked the Elders Advisory Board – Frank Griese (chair), Lorelei Evans (vice chair), Don Finley and Evelyn Allen, along with previous Board members Linda Hayes and Charlene Matheson; the House of Respect Elders Center staff leadership – Vernetta Miller, Russ Hascom, Bill Eveskcige, Lois Jacobs, Anlot Wright and Huyana Tougaw; and Design and Construction Management project managers Keli Parrett and Debra Sharp.
Tribal Council Member Sylvia Miller looked back on the days when all that the Tribe had for healthcare was a trailer that would park in the tribal cemetery.
“I can remember during the Land Claims Settlement I looked at my uncle to try and get him to tell me if it was a good idea to do the Land Settlement or not. He told me everything that this Tribe has we have had to fight twice as hard for, we’ve got to work twice as hard for, and we worked hard to get to where we are right now,” she said. “All we had before was a trailer in that cemetery for our dental and it was the worst dental I’ve ever had in my life. I’m happy for this day. Now (our elders) will be able to look out over their home, their own reservation, and that’s important.”
Tribal Council Member Annette Bryan thanked all those who have been involved in this important project. “I want to say that I give my thanks to our ancestors and elders who have gone on before us and also to the Tribal Council that stood here before me and made this possible,” she said. “Our people will now have a place to be, where we can come and visit them and spend time there with elders who need our company, our laughter, our good words, good smiles and good hugs.”
As the newest Tribal Councilmember, elected just last month, James Rideout spoke of the changes he has seen in the Tribe over the years and his gratitude for being elected to a leadership role.
“This groundbreaking today to me means so many things in a positive change. I know the sacrifices that our elders have been through and at the end of the day, all the elders want is for their children and grandchildren to be okay. It’s really wonderful for someone to think about (the elders) in such a positive way. I commend everyone for their efforts and contributions to make this happen today. It’s an honor and privilege to be a public servant for our tribal community.”