Lonicera Hall remains open, with an exciting future ahead

St. Stephen – Rumors have been floating around St. Stephen that Lonicera Hall, a popular seniors’ residence, would be soon shutting its doors. Fortunately, that is only a rumor, and Lonicera Hall is pretty close to being filled to capacity. Administrator Trudy Higgins, who just came into her position in May, said she and the board of directors for Lonicera Hall have lots of interesting plans for the future, and they are looking for ways to raise funds to ensure the seniors’ residence remains open.

Higgins said she had been retired, and she hated it. She was looking for a job that would fit her particular set of skills, and that would make her feel like she was still doing something to benefit the community. She found it in her new position at Lonicera.

“This is a dream job to me,” said Higgins. “I don’t like retirement, I will say that. Some people say they can’t wait to retire. I didn’t like it at all. This chance came up, and John (my husband) said, ‘you want to go back to work full time,’ and I said ‘yeah, I do’. Of course, these residents, I just love them. They’re all wonderful. I like a challenge. I’ve been up to the challenge, and I am very happy to say that I have 15 rooms filled as of August 1 and only four more rooms left to fill.”

Lonicera Hall is a Heritage Home, recognized by the Province of New Brunswick. Built in 1841 by local shipwright James Porter, it has been an integral part of the history of Charlotte County for several decades. The home was purchased by Gilbert Ganong for the sum of $27, which at the time was a substantial amount of money. When he purchased the home, he commissioned workers to turn the house around so it faced inland instead of Water Street, which is now Milltown Boulevard. He did this so his wife wouldn’t have a view of the docks. A turret was also added, along with balconies and verandas.

In her will, Mariah Ganong gifted the home to the town, with the condition that it was to be a residence for seniors. She felt that there wasn’t enough provided for seniors, so one year after her death in 1934, the building was established as “The Mariah F. Ganong Old Folks Home”, and subsequently renamed Lonicera Hall in later years. Today, it is an independent living seniors’ residence, and it still retains the original beauty and character of the era in which it was built, with the addition of modern amenities.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about Mariah Ganong,” said Higgins. “Mariah Ganong was the person who created this facility as a retirement home. Her birthday is April 26. A lot of the federal grants talk about commemorative dates, so I’ve talked a few board members about using her birthdate as the commemorative date.

She really is an unsung hero. She didn’t get a lot of recognition. We talk a lot about Mr. Ganong, because he was a lieutenant governor, for a brief stint, but she was a very smart woman. She put a lot of thought and effort into how she developed the foundation to keep this as a retirement home. To me, it’s a win/win. We have a commemorative date, and we’re recognizing her.”

Higgins said she has been very busy in her role as Administrator, and she, along with the board of directors, are looking at various fundraising ideas so they can refurbish the porch, which has an estimated cost of around $70,000. Higgins said she is applying for a few federal grants, as well as local charitable organizations.

“We also have a big fundraising project that we’re hoping to get launched,” said Higgins. “A couple of volunteers have offered to help. We have a number of doors and windows that we are going to catalog and we’re going to try to sell them through certain sites that buy those types of things.

“These are the original doors from the house. We have some really cool windows that I believe at one time a major portion of the house had these windows. The doors, a lot of them have the brass fittings on them. There’s one pocket door that I hear would make an excellent headboard for a king size bed.”

In addition to the fundraiser for the doors and windows, Higgins said they are also planning on holding a yard sale in September. Many items have been left behind over the years, and she figured selling these items would be a great way to raise funds for Lonicera, and give the residence more exposure in the community.

So, how did the rumor start about Lonicera Hall shutting its doors? Higgins said a lot of it came from the COVID-19 pandemic. During lockdown, the residence was unable to allow new residents to move in, and this caused a bit of a scare, because it was thought that the rooms wouldn’t be filled and they wouldn’t be able to afford to continue operating the seniors’ residence. Higgins began making calls, and soon had several rooms filled. She said as soon as one person moved in, another person was waiting to move in.

“This is a not for profit facility, and like everything else that’s not for profit, you have to have a certain amount of money to keep things going. The board gave it some serious thought, and said let’s see what happens.”

Many people confuse this type of seniors’ residence with a nursing home, but the two are completely different. Lonicera Hall is not a nursing home. It is a residence, and the seniors are able to come and go as they please. If they want to leave for a few weeks to go on vacation, they are more than welcome to do so. But, they don’t have the responsibility of keeping up a home, which can be difficult for people who are employed, let alone seniors who rely on pensions.

“It’s a beautiful home,” said Higgins. “You come and go as you please. Somebody cooks your meals. Somebody does your laundry. Somebody cleans your room. People, for some reason seem to think that they’re giving up when really, if people understood, you take all that stress away.

“If you are living alone in a house and you have taxes to pay, upkeep on the house, the water bill and the power bill, and somebody to mow the lawn and do the snow shoveling, it’s a lot. Move into here, pay your rent and you pay for your phone, that’s it.”

Each room has internet access and cable television. Higgins said they provide basic cable, and if residents want additional channels, they are welcome to add them at their own cost. This and their telephone are the only expenses in addition to rent, which covers meals, housekeeping services, and more.

Anyone who has worried Lonicera Hall is closing does not have to worry any longer. Higgins said they hope to have all of the rooms full in the very near future, and she has plenty of ideas for fundraisers, activities for residents, and much more.

“I’m really excited. I’ve got all kinds of ideas. How many will come to fruition, it’ll depend on the residents.”

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca