Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 27 October 2009 13:32
The former Florence Health Care facility has a new identity with the recent placement of this new sign. Owner David Weseloh is hoping senior citizens will take advantage of its free services.
A former nursing home facility in Florence is getting a new start as a place to serve the needs of seniors, thanks to the benevolent involvement of a Kansas native from Texas.
David Weseloh of Midland opened Sunshine Residential Center in September as a place to meet the needs of seniors who no longer want to maintain a big house but aren’t ready for an assisted living center or nursing home.
The concept of the new enterprise, located in the former Florence Health Care building, is part apartment house, part social center and, Weseloh hopes, part eating establishment if he can find a restaurant to open there.
The bottom line for Weseloh, he said, is not personal profit, but providing an affordable, clean place for seniors to socialize.
“I just feel we’re killing our seniors by having them stay at home sitting in front of a TV all day long, not knowing what to do except watch soap operas and ‘Oprah’ and those types of programs,” said Weseloh, himself a 68-year old.
“They don’t get a chance to exercise their mind and have socialization,” he added. “So what ends up happening is that they die, and they die very lonely.”
The Web site for Sunshine Residential Center (sunshineresidntial.com) describes the goal this way: “We provide a clean, private room, the use of an exercise facility and a recreation area where our guests can socialize if they choose. This is so important for senior citizens. Our guests are free to come and go as they choose with independence and dignity.”
How Weseloh, a native of Lincoln, Kan., found Florence is almost happenstance. He has been interested in developing other similar centers, including one in a former hospital in Plainville and one a former school in Woodbine.
Weseloh said he was disappointed in the latter property and was on his way home along U.S. Highway 50 when he drove past Florence and noticed the motel along the highway was for sale. He talked to the owners, who mentioned the availability of the former nursing home, which had been vacant for more than seven years.
Weseloh checked out the facility and liked what he saw. Not long after, Florence Mayor Mary Shipman got involved.
“He called me one day and asked me about the old nursing home building we have down here,” she said. “He seemed really interested, and I didn’t know whether to take him seriously or not. I had never heard of the man before.
“Next thing I knew he bought the building and he was in town. I went down and met with him several times.”
Along the way, the relationship between Weseloh and Florence clicked—which was particularly refreshing for Weseloh, whose plan for a facility in Plainville was not well received.
“It’s a whole different attitude here,” Weseloh said. “Florence has been a fantastic town. They’ve treated me really well. I’m very, very pleased with them.
“Everybody talks well about other people in the town, everybody is really helpful,” Weseloh said. “It’s just fantastic. It’s the way I remembered Kansas while growing up in Lincoln.”
And the positive feelings are reciprocated, at least by Mayor Shipman.
“I feel Florence is really lucky to have Dr. Weseloh,” she said. “It’s kind of like he’s adopted our community. He’s got a lot of ideas for different things he wants to do for the town.”
Weseloh said seniors from around the area are welcome to use the free services of his center.
“They don’t have to be in Florence,” he said. “They can come over and join in. It’s free. They can bring a Thermos of coffee or tea or whatever, if they want to. We just want senior citizens to be comfortable and meet other seniors.”
He has invited the Florence community to use the center “for free for anything that benefits the community,” Shipman said.
Weseloh and the city are checking out the possibility of getting a license for bingo. The earnings will be split between the game winner and a local committee that works on community improvements.
“It’s a win-win deal because the city makes money and the people have a chance to play bingo and win something—I don’t take one penny out of that,” Weseloh said.
The philanthropic angle is integral to his approach. He made slight improvements to the facility when he purchased it—including a thorough cleaning as well as fixing dozens of water line leaks.
He has hired a property manager and keeps the utilities running.
“I’m saying I don’t care if I’m not making any money on them coming over,” he said of the seniors. “Even when we do get the restaurant—we’re trying to find somebody to lease it out right now—I don’t make a penny.
“Again, I provide the location, I pay the utilities, I pay for the toilet paper in the bathroom, the water, the wage (for the property manager)—I pay all that,” Weseloh said. “It’s my way of doing something for the community that I think has done so much for me.”
Weseloh’s plan has been slow to take off. He is still looking for a restaurant owner to lease space in the facility—one that will follow his three requirements: (1) a clean and sanitary environment, (2) reasonable prices and (3) delicious and nutritious food.
In addition, Weseloh is still looking for his first residents, and continues to promote the center in area newspapers.
Weseloh said he isn’t surprised that the project hasn’t just taken off.
“I grew up in Kansas, and I know it just takes a while for people in Kansas to get used to a new idea,” he said. “I’m willing to take a loss for at least a year, and if after a year I only break even, I don’t care.
“I want to do something for the seniors,” he added. “They can come down and play cards, play games and there’s no cost. They’ll be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. And it’s all free to them.”
Weseloh’s passion for seniors started when he was 24 years old and befriended an elderly neighbor.
“She was thrilled to death for me to come over and even talk to her,” he said.
He has been involved with seniors ever since, and along the way has earned a doctorate in philosophy and human behavior with an emphasis on manager leadership.
“You could say its a cross between business and psychology,” he said.
Weseloh’s vision is to start several of these centers in the Midwest, first in Kansas and then perhaps expanding into Nebraska, too.
“I want to start in Kansas because that’s where I grew up and I want to do something nice for Kansas,” he said.
In the meantime, he’s doing something nice for Florence, Shipman maintained.
The facility was empty for more than seven years before David Weseloh purchased it.
“He’s not in it to make money,” she said. “He said he’s always had a soft spot for older people. He’s one of them now, too.
“I think Florence is just really lucky to have him—I think the community is really welcoming this,” she added. “He likes it here and we darn sure like him.”
For more information about the Sunshine Residential Center, visit their Web site or call 620-878-2200.