In the beginning, Florida Presbyterian Homes did not have full-time nursing care. One dedicated nurse, Frances Smith, after working day duty at Lakeland General Hospital, volunteered to keep vigil each night in the Howland-Delay House. Dr. George Earnest, a retired physician living at the Homes, offered his professional services and donated $10,000 toward extending the House, in order to have an infirmary on the second floor.
The Board of Directors presented to the Synod plans for an annex with health facilities. The Synod voted to request $80,000 from the statewide expansion campaign. The Johnsons wrote, “This Annex was a sort of hybrid between a hotel and an extended care facility…offering a splendid stopgap until further money became available.”
The Howland-Delay Annex was built as a separate structure in 1958, and contained 12 apartments and limited nursing facilities. A little over three years later, a gift once again, sparked new interest. Mr. Charles Schuester, Treasurer of the Board of Directors, made it known that he was ready to make a gift toward the establishment of a nursing home. Five years later a health center was added, and in 1967 it was expanded into the Monte Johnson Health Center.
This building included a small infirmary. (Later, it became the “J” assisted living apartments.)In 1975, the Homes purchased a nursing home six miles away on Lakeland Hills Boulevard. All the residents of the Monte Johnson Health Center were transferred there. There was further expansion to 185 beds in 1989. But it was still too far away. The Homes provided transportation for those who wanted to visit there; but the need for a larger, better, and closer facility was obvious.
After 20 years, the directors sold the facility for six million dollars. By 1993, the population of Florida Presbyterian Homes was nearly 300 residents living in homes, apartments, efficiencies, and assisted living units.
There was an urgent need for a health center on site. With generous gifts from other donors, the new 40-bed Porter-McGrath Health Center was built. It was dedicated January 7, 1997.
Margaret Hisey, a special education teacher in her native Michigan, moved to Winter Haven in 1976. Three years later she married Herbert Porter and they moved to Terrace Gardens. She died in 1989, and left in her will a generous bequest to the Homes. Part of her charitable gift had been used in the development of the Lakeland Hills Boulevard facility; the remainder was used for what became Porter-McGrath.
Zella McGrath, a native of Chicago, came to Auburndale before 1940 with her husband Harold. He served as President of the Florida Presbyterian Homes Board of Directors and vice chairman of the Executive Committee. After his death, Zella moved to the Homes in April, 1991. She died a few months before her 100th birthday in September, 1996, and left her estate of over two million dollars to Florida Presbyterian Homes.
Porter-McGrath was especially designed as a friendly, open place (please, never call it a “nursing home”). There are two floors, each with a large common area flanked on both sides by 10 rooms for those in need of nursing care. The Activity Department produces a calendar of events for every day in the week and coordinates these with residents’ interests and abilities. Birthdays and holidays are celebrated. Permanent residents have their own furniture and their distinctive memories celebrated. Corner suites are ingeniously designed so that couples can have their home together there.
A noteworthy feature of Porter-McGrath is the therapy room. Staffed by experienced and delightful therapists, residents are kept as active as possible in line with their doctors’ orders.
Residents are encouraged to eat in the main dining room whenever possible and are included in all activities of the Homes. Those who are able attend Sunday morning service in Glenn Moore Chapel. Others participate in the service by way of closed circuit television. Some residents are permanently at Porter-McGrath; others convalesce there after hospitalization and then return to their homes.
In 2007, four rooms were added within the Porter-McGrath building, two rooms on each floor. The ribbon cutting was held on April 18. It is now a 48 bed facility. In the future, Porter McGrath will be expanded to include 20 more private rooms.
Also in 2007, the Kymberly Harris Memorial Garden was created just outside the first floor of Porter-McGrath. Kym had been a social worker at Florida Presbyterian Homes’ facility on Lakeland Hills Boulevard. She came to the main campus in October 1996 as Administrator of Porter-McGrath Health Center. Kym quickly became a part of the Florida Presbyterian Homes family, and endeared herself to all residents. Sadly, she died on Fathers Day 2007, after giving birth to twin girls.
With our large central building complex on Lake Hunter, composed of Forrer-Bunker Manor, Glenn Moore Center, Howland-DeLay Annex, Nora Rife, Bower-Haines, Porter-McGrath and the new Assisted Living Facility, all apartment residents are essentially under one roof, with air-conditioned corridors, elevators, and covered walkways to bind them together.
It takes time to find your way around, but it is far better than driving six miles to see a sick relative or friend!