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Garfield keeps elders with its assisted living center in town

Assisted living

Garfield Assisted Living Center

Garfield took its liability of losing older people and turned it into an asset by establishing an assisted-living facility with 16 units in the center of town. 

Even though older residents did not want to leave Garfield, where they had lived most of their lives, many left because they needed assisted living. 

With a Community Development Grant and passage of a bond levy, the community of 650 and surrounding area of 1,000 raised $1.5 million for the hospital district to develop the LaDow Assisted Living Center.

Most apartments are now filled and the median age of residents is 89.
The center has created nine jobs.

“That’s a significant number of jobs,” said the Rev. King Rockhill, now retired as both director of Rural Ministries Resources (RMR) and pastor of the Garfield and Farmington United Methodist Churches.

His successor in those roles is the Rev. Joel Aosved.

King Rockhill

King Rockhill in Garfield

King is still chair of the Hospital District Board, which he founded in 1976 to provide an ambulance for the surrounding area.

In the early 1980s, the hospital district established a clinic in Garfield, to be served by medical staff from the Whitman Medical Group in Colfax.  The current doctor, who lives in St. John, serves both Garfield and St. John.  There are also physicians’ assistants.

“We have run through about every model there is for rural health,” King said.
The assisted-living center was six years in planning.  It opened in March 2004.

In May 2002, the hospital board posted a meeting announcement in the post offices at Garfield and Farmington to gather people to consider running a bond levy to build the center. One woman stood in the post office recruiting people to come. Seventy people showed up.

Within an hour they agreed to put the levy on the September ballot.  It passed by a vote of 68 percent.  They contracted with an architect.

Meanwhile, they negotiated with the LaDow Grange, which previously stood on the site of the center. It was used as a gym for the old high school.  Grangers were at first reluctant to sell the old Grange hall, named for a nearby butte, but agreed to sell it in January 2002.

After Grange members decided in 15 minutes to sell, everyone was on board, Joel said.

Construction began in the spring of 2003.

Brick wainscot on the exterior of the new center is from the Grange.  The mantle above the fireplace is a beam from an old grain elevator.  Photos on inside walls capture Grange and other area history.

Members of the hospital board visited similar facilities in three other communities—Odessa, Chewelah and Wilbur—where they gathered ideas and advice.

Garfield woman

Garfield woman crochets.

They decided to have 16 studio apartments of 450-square feet, because the other communities thought they had under-built.  Sixteen is the maximum for an assisted-living center to be a boarding house rather than a health-care facility. 

People bring their own furniture and decorations.  The rooms have bay windows, which make them look larger.  Radiant floor heat reduces drafts.  There is a common laundry room and one Jacuzzi step-in bathtub. 

To live there, a person must be able to move from the bed to a walker to a wheel chair alone.  For health care, residents may go to a nursing home when they need skilled nursing or physical therapy, so they can have enough strength and mobility to return.

There is no resident nurse, but there is staff in the facility all day all week.  A nurse is on staff to help with handling medicines and routine health care. 
The board decided to build in the center of Garfield, so residents could be part of the community.


Garfield stores on main street


The facility is within one block of three churches, across from the bank, a block from the grocery store, and beside the clinic and post office. Residents can just walk out the door and down the street using their walkers.

It’s also where people and families come to do errands in town, so they stop in and say hi, King said.

“One little boy just came to see his great-grandmother while his mother shopped,” he said.

“There is constant interaction with people who come frequently, rather than people living several hours away and being alone, waiting for visits once a week.”

With the café now closed, people can drop into the center to use the phone.  Someone is always there, so it is a local 911 center.

They observe what they call “the code of the door.”  If the door to an apartment is closed, it means the resident does not want to be disturbed.  If it is open a crack, it means to knock and check if the person wants a visit.  If the door is open, it means to come on in.

The residents are a mix of local-area people from Garfield, Farmington, Palouse, Albion, Pullman, Spokane and one from Whidbey Island who has roots in Garfield.

It keeps people connected to the geographic area and to family.  Some came back, having attended high school there 60 years ago,” he said.

The church, as the church, was not involved, but individuals in churches took leadership roles in developing the project.

In its first 10 months, it has operated at a loss for only two months.  Joel attributes that to community ownership.

The primary issue in ministry has been how to help elders in the church and community transition from being able to drive to not being able to drive, from being able to live at home to not being able to live at home.

A widow living alone on a farmstead used to live under a shadow of fear:  What if she fell?  What if the lifeline did not work?  Would anyone come?  The new residence has lifted that shadow.

The pastor helps in that process,” Joel said.  “Now, when they give up living in their homes, they do not need to give up living near their friends or in the community that has been their whole world.  They can just become townies.”

Joel said nutrition makes a difference.  There is an open central kitchen and a dining room with four tables of four.  Residents have microwaves, small refrigerators and sinks in their small kitchens, but most eat all meals together.

“Often people deteriorate physically and mentally if they lack nutrition and stimulation from interaction with each other over puzzles, jokes and telling stories,” he said, impressed by the camaraderie among residents.
Thursday mornings, they hold a Bible study at the center.  Residents are able to go to the one of three churches within a block of the center.

“People here are looking to the future.  They have plans for what they will do next week, so they are not focused on the past,” King said.  “They plan to go have their hair fixed, to visit family, to join in community events.”

For information, call 208-875-1578 or email arockhil@

Rural roots make Garfield seem like coming home

Joel Aosved

Joel Aosved

The Rev. Joel Aosved, who became director of Rural Ministries Resources (RMR) in July 2004, said that increasingly “rural church people realize that the strength of the church is related to the strength of the community.”

A graduate of seminary at Boston University in 1998, he served United Methodist churches in Grangeville, Nez Perce and Whitebird before moving to the new ministry in Garfield.

The son of a Methodist pastor, he was born in Arlington, but also lived in Coeur d’Alene and Walla Walla.  With ancestors buried in the Avon cemetery and cousins in Colfax and Pullman, he feels like the move was “coming home” for him, as well as for his wife, Laura, who grew up in Walla Walla.

“Grangeville, Nez Perce and Whitebird were adept at converting me to rural ministry,” he said, commenting that rural pay is often low and demands on a pastor’s time are high and conflicted.  “In the rural area, you can see the horizon.  You can also judge if you ar

For example, when a transient needing shoes came through Grangeville, Joel went to the local store selling shoes and met the need directly.

RMR pays Joel’s salary. Three churches contract with RMR for pastoral services.  In addition to Garfield and Farmington, which Joel serves, Elmore contracts for the services of Kathy Kramer, who has been program coordinator of RMR for 18 years.  She completed the lay pastoral leadership training for LimPop—Limited and Declining Population—churches.

RMR funding comes from the Pacific Northwest United Methodist Annual Conference, the Alaska-Northwest Presbyterian Church Synod and the Eastern Washington Idaho Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Local congregations also donate.

“RMR provides support services to familial churches—some in rural areas and some in urban areas,” said the Rev. King Rockhill, who continues involvement with RMR as treasurer and mentor for Joel.

For many years, King focused on recruiting, training and supervising lay people to serve in pastoral leadership. 

RMR also holds educational forums on sustainability of life in small communities, which is integral to the sustainability and health of churches.  The issues these events address include housing, health care, criminal justice, domestic violence and economics.

“Teen pregnancy, gun violence and drug abuse are down in all areas but rural areas,” said Joel.  “Resources to deal with these problems are up in all areas but rural areas.”

He added that, although the percentage of rural population has declined since 1940, the number of people living in rural America is more than ever before.

For information, call 635-1248.

By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - Copyright © March 2005