More than a home: Where we live impacts childcare and our independence as we age

A place to raise the neighborhood

When Shirley owned a home in Baxter with Harlen, her husband of 61 years, it was more than a place for the couple to share a life together. For 17 years, Shirley provided daycare out of her home. Gramma’s Daycare — named by one of Shirley’s charges — was a key asset to the neighborhood and the community. She was a talented daycare provider with fair prices — and her services were in high demand.

“Women who had used my daycare used to plan their pregnancies around my openings so they could bring their children there,” Shirley said. “I had a lower rate because these were all young kids who were just starting out, and I just felt that I should help them a little bit. I made friends for life with all of them.”

The home Shirley and Harlen made together created a safe, safe, happy place for neighborhood kids to grow up and find success as adults. “All the practice we did printing — they called it playing school — I got four teachers, a pharmacist, and an engineer out of my daycare!” she said.

Photo: Shirley and Harlan in 1998 on their 47th anniversary trip to Hawaii. They were married 61 years.

A place to stay independent

Harlen — known as ‘Grandpa’ to the daycare kids — worked on the railroad for 34 years. When he got sick, it became difficult for Shirley and Harlen to maintain their home. They bought a mobile home in Cross Lake, thinking the small yard of a mobile home would be more manageable, but after six and a half years, they’d had enough. It was time to downsize.

“It’s hard to find places for people who are handicapped,” Shirley said. “We had to give up a beautiful apartment across from [Central Lakes] college because Harlen couldn’t get up the stairs. Anything that’s made for seniors should be laid out like my apartment.”

Harlen passed away several years ago. For almost five years now, Shirley has lived at Grand Oaks Court Townhomes in Baxter. She’s got good neighbors and a place to show off her green thumb.

“I’ve enjoyed living here, Shirley said. “The neighbors aren’t so nosy, and the layout is ideal for privacy. Your living and dining area is the back of the apartment toward the patio, and I can have my plants in the summertime.”

Shirley’s affordable home at Grand Oaks Court Townhomes in Baxter is more than just a roof over her head.

“It gives me money left over so I can go in my car and take care of myself,” Shirley explained. “I don’t have to have anybody driving me to the doctor or taking me to the library or the grocery store. It makes me very independent, which I like. I’ve always been that way.”

Managed by Central Minnesota Housing Partnership, there are 24 two- and three-bedroom townhomes at Grand Oaks Court. Two-bedrooms rent at $680 per month and three-bedrooms at $775. The property accepts Section 8 vouchers and provides four units designated for people experiencing long-term homelessness.

The community is ideal for Shirley. Grand Oaks Court is centrally located, with walking trails, a Cub Foods, Kohls, Fleet Farm, and Menards nearby. “I like the idea that it’s so close to everything,” Shirley said. “If you want to go over to the college and go to a play, that’s not far away. I like the location of this apartment better than any other place I’ve lived since I’ve been married.”

Shirley is proud of her home. “When I moved in here, I felt like I should take care of this home as if it was my own. I have a fellow come in here every two years, and he shampoos my carpets. I appreciate being able to live here.”

Shirley sees the connection between a stable, affordable home and her community, and feels it’s important to invest to make that happen. “We need affordable, ground floor housing,” she said. Shirley wants to see more homes that offer easy access to transportation and are designed to ensure people can age in place.