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‘Oh, how the times have changed’

Knute Nelson celebrates 70 years of quality care for the aging

Whether you have heard stories from your parents or grandparents, or you experienced the year of 1948 yourself, one message is most common when reflecting on the year, “Oh, how times have changed.” Indeed, they have. We often hear about the time when you could purchase a new home for $8,000, and you could fill up your gas tank with only $2.

At Knute Nelson, 1948 is a year remembered for a different reason. It is the year the nonprofit organization was established with a bequest by the late senator and governor of Minnesota, Knute Nelson. Nelson donated his family home and 23 acres of land with the intent that it be used to provide care for elderly area residents. The Knute Nelson organization’s namesake and founder, Sen. Knute Nelson, was a renaissance man who was dedicated to the transformation of society. He was a renowned politician, having served as a United States representative, Minnesota senator, University of Minnesota regent, Fifth District congressman, governor of Minnesota, and United States senator. He was also a philanthropist, donating his estate to the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of America “for the construction and equipment and maintenance of a fit and suitable ‘Old Peoples Home.’” The home opened on April 20, 1948, and thus began Knute Nelson’s legacy to care for the elderly.

Knute Nelson’s family home and the original Knute Nelson nursing home has become today’s Douglas County Historical Society. Contributed photo

1948 was during an era of nursing homes, when many family homes, hotels, and other unused buildings began being turned into facilities to care for the aging following the war. Nursing homes were an aging individual’s only option for receiving the care they required to ensure a higher quality of living. These nursing homes were not available in every community, and for many individuals, they were a move to live out the remainder of their days.

Fast forward 70 years, and Sen. Knute Nelson’s wish has become a reality with the organization, Knute Nelson, helping to lead the paradigm of aging in West Central Minnesota. Knute Nelson has continued to expand its health care offerings to the community, keeping up with the pace in which senior care has grown and changed during the past 70 years. Helping to lead this change in which care is provided has meant many things for the organization. It has meant expanding access to care in West Central Minnesota communities, expanding choices to ensure individuals have lifestyle options that fit their needs and desires, and also expanding to offer community-based services, such as outpatient therapy and wellness choices, to take a more proactive approach to aging.

To some, there may be a stigma that comes with the words “nursing home.” Many individuals have a picture in their mind that likely includes white walls, dull décor, quiet hallways and a feeling of isolation. That may be how nursing homes once were, but “Oh, have times have changed.” Senior housing throughout the country means something entirely different than it once did. Options such as independent living, assisted living and enhanced assisted living have joined in caring for the aging. The environment is now sprinkled with bright and happy hues, and the feeling of isolation has been replaced with camaraderie and laughter.

“Knute Nelson has long had a significant presence in the Alexandria community. It has an enormous impact on our local economy, and the organization has always sought to support the community in any way it can. An organization that offers such an incredible history and an innovative, impactful future deserves our recognition and support.”

– Dan Ness, former mayor of Alexandria

Individuals also have access to programming that takes a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach to maintaining their health. Knute Nelson has invested and prioritized these options to ensure they are readily available in the communities they serve. This is especially important as the rise of the aging population continues to grow in Minnesota. Sixty thousand Minnesotans turn 65 this year, next year and every year through 2030. Soon, 25 percent of our adult population will be 65+. Access to care has shifted dramatically, and no matter your location, you likely have additional choices for maintaining a higher quality of living. There are many more choices for you and your loved ones than there once was.

Today’s services at Knute Nelson include:

Grand Arbor by Knute Nelson. Contributed photo

• Assisted Living: Housing that offers supportive services, such as nursing, meals, medication management, housekeeping and assistance with activities of daily living

• Enhanced Assisted Living: Housing that offers an enhanced level of nursing care, such as complex medication management and transfer assistance

• Home Care: Personalized health care, such as skilled nursing, therapy and chronic disease management in the comfort of an individual’s home. Knute Nelson Home Care locations include Alexandria, Baxter, Elbow Lake, Fergus Falls, Little Falls, Long Prairie, Morris, Park Rapids, Fargo/Moorhead and Wadena

• Hospice: Physical, emotional and spiritual care for a patient and their family during the last six months of life. Knute Nelson Hospice serves the communities of Alexandria, Baxter, Brainerd, Elbow Lake, Little Falls, Long Prairie, Morris and Wadena

• Independent Living: Maintenance-free apartments that offer convenient services and an array of amenities for those 55+

• Management and Consulting: Using their health care expertise to enhance the care delivered by other values-based organizations, such as Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls

• Memory Care: Specially designed care structured to meet the health, nutritional, social, cognitive and spiritual needs of those living with dementia

• Nursing Home: 24-hour skilled nursing care

• Outpatient Therapy: Physical, occupational and speech therapy services for those who live independently, conveniently located within a state-of-the-art wellness center

• Partnerships: Partnerships with local organizations to expand their community impact, such as the Alexandria YMCA partnership for on-site child care and enhanced wellness programming

• Respite Care: Furnished apartments for those who may need a short-term stay to receive post-surgery care, caregiver relief, hospice and more

• Short-Term Rehab: Health care services designed to assist in healing and recovery after a surgery or other illness

• Smart-Home Technology: Technology, such as personal emergency response and medication management, that assists individuals to stay in their homes

• Wellness Programming: State-of-the-art facilities and specific programs that encourage active aging

Senator Knute Nelson (1843-1923)

As you can see, solutions have been – and continue to be – sought out for providing care to a growing population of aging individuals. These solutions continue to be fine-tuned to ensure that our families, friends and neighbors are cared for with the utmost dignity and in an environment they can call “home.” Whether “home” means the place they built their family, or a place that becomes home where they are surrounded with newfound friends.

With an eye to the future, and drawing upon the strengths of our history, the locally governed and nonprofit organization, Knute Nelson, will continue to expand and enhance programming to meet the needs of the growing community and region for many decades to come, ensuring Sen. Nelson’s remarkable legacy far into the future.

For more information about Knute Nelson and the services they provide, please visit or call (320) 763-6653.

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