Block nurse founders named Spirit of the Park recipients

It all started with an article in the Bugle and a meeting in Jo Anne Rohricht’s St. Anthony Park home.

Thirty-five years later, the St. Anthony Park Block Nurse Program (now St. Anthony Park Area Seniors) has been replicated throughout the state with 43 similar programs in Minnesota, 16 of which are in St. Paul.

The founders of the original block nurse program—the late Ann Copeland, Ida Martinson, Jo Anne Rohricht and Ann Wynia—will be honored with the Saint Anthony Park Community Foundation’s Spirit of the Park Award on Monday, July 4, at the Fourth in the Park opening ceremonies at noon in Langford Park following the parade down Como Avenue. Martinson, Rohricht, Wynia and Copeland’s husband, Harland, will be at the ceremonies to accept the award.

“The inscription on the award speaks to the lasting contribution these four women have made to our community and many others,” said Jon Schumacher, executive director of the foundation: In honor of your foresight, innovation, commitment and thoughtful concern for our older adults and the quality of their lives. For your dedication to finding a way for neighbors to age in place gracefully and safely in their home communities. And for your belief that the human resources within a community could create and implement the type of programming needed to accomplish those goals.

In December 1981, Rohricht wrote in the Bugle about Dr. Ida Martinson—a professor of nursing, a St. Anthony Park resident and a member of the National Institute on Aging, who was heading to the White House Conference on Aging. Martinson was noted nationally for her work in home care for dying children and had been asked to serve on the National Institute on Aging’s advisory board.

“They thought the concepts of hospice and in-home care were appropriate to the health care of elderly persons,” Martinson told Rohricht. In 1981, U.S. healthcare for older people emphasized hospitalization and physician services, “whereas the actual needs of elderly are usually best served by supportive home care and on-call nursing services,” Martinson said in the Bugle article. And then, Rohricht quoted Martinson’s defining words: “We should have neighborhood nurses in a community like St. Anthony Park. Three nurses would be about right. They would be available to make house calls as needed and to advise and instruct family members who care for an older person at home.”

“When the article came out, Ida got a call from Jane Pressberg, who became our first nurse, saying, ‘I agree with your thoughts on this. If something like that ever happens, I’d like to be a part of it,’ ” said Rohricht, who was serving on the District 12 Human Services Committee at the time. “When Ida told me that, I thought, ‘This has potential.’ ”

Rohricht hosted the organizational meeting at her St. Anthony Park home that included Martinson, District 12 community organizer Ann Copeland and state Rep. Ann Wynia. “We identified what we felt we would want— nurses, home health aides and volunteers—and we would need a board of directors,” Rohricht said.

“We spent many hours at Jo Anne Rohricht’s home talking through the needs and the particulars of how to meet them and how to pay for them,” Wynia said. “Ann Copeland had tremendous experience from her work with (the University of Minnesota) Extension and as a community organizer and volunteer. Ann knew how to get things done.”

All four women brought different strengths to the project, Wynia said. “I was in the Legislature at the time and had worked on policy and legislation relating to the care of the elderly. All of us recognized that most seniors wanted to stay in their own homes. Additionally, I was aware that nursing home care was the single largest item in the health and human services budget. Helping people stay at home made good sense for the individual and for the state budget. Providing services that utilized resources within the community, both professional and volunteer, was a smart strategy.”

Within weeks of the initial meetings, Martinson found herself on a plane seated next to a businessman from H.B. Fuller who suggested she talk with former Fuller president Elmer Andersen (who happened to attend her church) about startup funding. The company gave them $7,000 to begin the project. Each year, the Spirit of the Park award is presented to a neighbor or neighbors who have demonstrated an extraordinary dedication to the community.

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