Looking back on the years

By: 
Hannah Gross

Submitted photo

Doug and Diane Hudson purchased Mondell Heights Retirement Home in 2010. The recently sold the assisted living facility to Ruth and Don Taylor.

Hannah Gross

NLJ Correspondent 

 

After serving the residents of Mondell Heights for 12 years, owners Doug and Diane Hudson decided it was time to move on. They sold the assisted living business to Don and Ruth Taylor, effective the first of the year. Although a few parties were interested in purchasing Mondell, the Hudsons said it was important to them to keep ownership in the area.

“We thought it’d be good to sell it to someone local,” Diane said. 

The couple officially took over Mondell Heights on July 1, 2010, but their involvement began long before that. Mondell Heights was the former location of the county hospital, so as a Newcastle native, Diane has many memories of family trips to the hospital.

“This is the building I was born in,” she said.

When the hospital moved to its current location in 1984, the building remained vacant. Diane lived in Seattle at the time, but her parents decided to move back to Newcastle. When the International Association of Rebekah Assemblies, a branch of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, was looking for a place to set up senior housing, Diane’s parents encouraged her to help them establish senior housing, Diane’s career, in the Mondell Heights building.

After the building was remodeled from a hospital to a retirement home, Mondell Heights officially opened in 1989 under a boarding home license. Diane then returned to Seattle only to come back 20 years later with her husband, Doug, who was a commercial contractor and emergency medical technician. 

“Mondell Heights was for sale, and it was a little tired,” Diane said. “I decided we’d buy it and fix it up.” 

They began renovating the place and “spiffed it up,” according to Doug. Throughout the years, every room in the whole building except one has been upgraded, including a new roof. Additionally, the service at Mondell Heights expanded when the Hudsons obtained an assisted living license in 2012. 

“Through this time we’ve served 75 families,” Diane said, although she clarified that some family names were repeats because they housed both spouses or sometimes different generations from the same family. 

Working with the elderly in Newcastle was very meaningful for the couple, and although it required them to live on call 24/7, they both said how much joy they have experienced by making the final years of their residents the best they possibly could be to ease the difficulty of the transition on the families. 

“It’s a hard thing for people. … The idea of making that change is hugely emotional,” Diane said. “It’s been our honor to make these last years … be years that have value, where people are seen not as an old guy down the hall with a cane but as a real person.”

With both EMT and fire-fighting experience, Doug knows what it is to help people, but his time at Mondell Heights allowed him to experience this on a personal level in a way he never had before. 

“It’s been a lifelong career for Diane,” Doug said. “It is the best thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.  … We’re making a difference in people’s lives.”

Not only was it important to the Hudsons to make a positive difference in the lives of their residents but also for the staff to feel the best they possibly could. 

“One of the things we have believed from the beginning
is to treat our employees as well as the residents,” Diane said. “We’ve had some amazing staff.” 

They understood the importance of allowing their staff members to take time off for doctor appointments, children’s concerts and other personal needs. So, as employers, the Hudsons were flexible. Their staff ranged in age from 14 to 85 because “everyone has something to contribute,” Doug said. 

The Hudsons created specific care plans for their residents called “wellness plans” to ensure optimal care, even if that meant taking a ride every week or getting fresh air on a walk. Diane shared a story of a specific resident who made a short path for himself around the building, and he’d challenge himself with how many laps he could do with his walker. 

The Hudsons also built a raised bed garden, so that residents could enjoy gardening at a sitting level without having to bend over. The garden had a large selection of beautiful flowers and vegetables, and it seemed every year had its “primary gardener,” Diane said. 

“It was wonderful,” she said. 

One resident in particular, whom Diane called the “chief gardener,” came to Mondell Heights with little hope of being able to get out of bed on his own. He made great progress, however, and even though he was unable to talk, he learned how to communicate with an iPad. Gardening was one of his favorite hobbies. 

“He was able to have a life even after his life had been impaired. … It was incredible,” Diane said. 

There are many wonderful memories for the Hudsons, but one of Diane’s favorites took place a few years ago during the beef dinner at the Weston County Fair. While waiting in line for food, many people started talking with the residents and, as a result, came later to visit Mondell Heights. 

“Everyone was just beaming,” Diane said.

As a way to provide community involvement for the residents as often as she could, Diane started a program at Mondell to bring in second graders to interact with the seniors. The young students read books to the elderly, and the elderly in turn read books to the students. 

“It was like magic to see people light up with second graders,” Diane said. 

Doug said that one of the most memorable things for him was spending the last minutes of life with residents and their families, making things for the residents as comfortable and peaceful as possible. It was the “highest honor I’ve been granted,” he said, adding that he and Diane share a family bond with their residents. 

“We have lots of fond memories of practically every one of our residents,” Doug said. 

For the Hudsons, going to work every day wasn’t a chore, it was a privilege. They enjoyed knowing they made a difference every day, and Diane said she’d miss the daily hugs with all the residents. Because of COVID-19, the last two years have been really difficult, they said, but they must have done something right because none of their residents got COVID or any other sickness. Following masking and social distancing guidelines, they continued to take residents on special outings, taking extra precautionary measures to keep them safe without too much exposure. They were short-staffed, which made it extra difficult, but they did it “because it was important.” 

However, the added strain took its toll, so the Hudsons decided it was time to retire. 

Diane laughed. 

“I would keep doing it until I couldn’t, which is kind of where I’m at,” she said. 

Doug said that Mondell Heights is “a very important asset” to the community, the residents, the staff and them, so he is satisfied knowing the legacy is continuing for another generation. They hope to continue making a difference in people’s lives during retirement instead of
becoming “irrelevant” or “complacent.” Diane said she will be working part time at a school to tutor students.

The couple plan to take trips, possibly driving the perimeter of the United States, and
look forward to spending more time with their children and grandchildren. They hope to build an energy efficient and eco-friendly house in Rapid City, South Dakota, close to their family. 

Doug and Diane both said they were grateful for the opportunity to work at Mondell Heights and the support of Weston County Health Services and the community. They hope it keeps flourishing and maintains its good record with the state in the years to come, they said. 

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