High Plains Manor, Yuma, Colorado

 


The High Plains Manor: A National Showcase


As the High Plains Manor celebrates its 50th anniversary, there's another story worth telling, a story about civic pride and progressive community leadership that resulted in something far more significant and meaningful than a simple housing project on the west side of town back in the 1960s.

The High Plains Manor was at the forefront of a national movement of social and domestic programs that began under the John F. Kennedy Administration and were expanded under what became known as the "Great Society" of President Lyndon B. Johnson. As part of Johnson's push for new and vital domestic initiatives to address poverty in America, rural development, housing and the needs of senior citizens came dozens of new federal agencies and departments, among them Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and senior assistance programs like Medicare and Medicaid, many of which remain part of the nation's social fabric today.

Thus, a small part of LBJ's plan came to Yuma in 1964 under the leadership of a small but determined group of community leaders who envisioned a greater good for the people living in a small corner of Colorado. And as everyone involved in the project would later say, not one person built the High Plains Manor - it was a group effort founded on leadership and vision.

Officially, the concept of the High Plains Manor began with former Major Russell Parrish, whose name would later become linked with another important senior living facility in Yuma. Together with the Yuma Board of Trustees, Parrish and city leaders authorized the creation of the Yuma Housing Board of Commission and five individuals were appointed to that board, including Jim Vincent (chairman), Sidney Gimeson (vice chairman), Howard Olsen, Otis Adlesperger and Samuel King.

In the "West Yuma County Centennial Book," published in 1986, Vincent talked about the many steps involved in the launch of the High Plains Manor. "The Housing Authority … moved in careful steps through application for the loan [grant], HUD cooperation agreement, state registry, selection of an architect and an acting executive director," Vincent wrote.

First and foremost was naming attorney Leon Hines of Benkelman, Neb., as the executive director and George Clayton of Grand Island as the architect. "Hines and Clayton were expert in the field of public housing and provided important leadership for the community."

The ambitions of the Yuma Housing Authority were quickly buoyed in early October of 1964 when Colorado's U.S. Sen. Gordon Allott contacted Vincent with good news. Yuma's project had been approved by the Housing and Home Finance Agency in Washington D.C., the agency that included others like the Federal Housing Administration, the Community Facilities Administration and the Urban Renewal Administration.

With Clayton's architectural plans stashed inside his briefcase, Vincent purchased an airline ticket to Texas and met with federal officials in Fort Worth for a design conference to determine the "architectural feasibility" of the proposed project. It was different than most. It was designed as a resident-friendly facility and some were worried that this might not qualify for a federal project. Still, the former owner and co-founder of Shop-All, Inc., returned to Yuma with more great news. He told the Yuma Pioneer that the consulting architect for the Fort Worth office was "highly complimentary" of the design.

Bottom line? The plans were approved. Construction would begin as early as the spring of 1965.

Dick Hoch was also an important part of the development. Hoch sold 10 acres of prime vacant land on the western edge of town to the city. Meanwhile, news of the progress spread through the pages of the Yuma Pioneer and a newfound sense of civic pride could be detected among those involved.

"Plans were drawn [by Earl Morris and Associates of Denver] and included many 'firsts' in public housing projects nationally. The Manor was the nation's first project to be built with attractive native quarry stone; the first with window draperies; and the first with on-site sanitary and waste disposal. The architectural plan provided unique individualized personal entrances as opposed to traditional row-type housing. All these things speak to the perseverance of the [Housing] Board," wrote Vincent.

Equally important was the potential impact it would have on the area for jobs, which is why Vincent and members of the Housing Commission prioritized local labor forces. Local carpenters and other tradesmen were given hiring preference and it quickly paid off in performance. The construction contract itself was awarded to Carson, Crider and Speicher of nearby Wray for a total bid of $589,994.00.

Soon, work began in earnest. And by the summer of 1966 it became clear that the project would come in under budget and on time.

Later, Vincent credited several politicians from Colorado for ultimately turning a small-town dream into a national reality and a showcase for low-cost housing for senior citizens. "Of tremendous importance was the intercession on Yuma's behalf by U.S. Senator Peter Dominick and U.S. House of Representative Don Brotzman," he wrote.

Which explains why Dominick was the special guest of honor at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Of particular note is what the High Plains Manor represents today, and what it meant to an entire community back in the 1960s, a project that turned 10 acres of dusty ground into a national showcase for affordable senior housing. The civic pride was easily discernable in an article published in the Yuma Pioneer on June 23, 1966: "The Yuma project has become a national showcase for national standards; a tribute to local planners. Such is indicated by a statement from the Field Inspector of the Public Housing Administration from the Fort Worth [Texas] office who reportedly said that the Yuma project has gone together with such precision that the national standards of public housing construction will be raised, and this will be nationally known as the Yuma Standard."

Matt Vincent 2016

The High Plains Manor: Trivia and Facts

***** Vern L. Morris was the first official resident of the High Plains Manor. A total of 16 units were leased when they officially became available on Oct. 16, 1966. In addition to Morris, other "first occupants" of the Manor included Mr. and Mrs. Carl M. Ketler, Nellie Nible, Silvia Cummings, Faye McCracken, Marie Marshall, Mr. and Mrs. Norman Rice, Effie Gorman, Mildred Hall, Elizabeth Mekelburg, Opal Moran, Jennie Long, Pearl Armagost, Mr. and Mrs. Dwight Ingalls, Veva Wittlake and Martha Brady.

***** Within its first two weeks of operation, more than 60 percent of the apartments were filled. While the vast majority of the first occupants were local residents from Yuma and Washington counties, some came from far away to rejoin friends and relatives in the Yuma community. Among these new residents were Opal Moran who was living in Hawthorne, Calif., and the Ketlers who were living in McCook, Neb.
v ***** When Yuma officials were notified that its proposed "senior housing project" had been funded in October of 1964, Jim Vincent, chairman of the Yuma Housing Authority, told the Yuma Pioneer "work would now proceed rapidly." Just how quickly smoothly the project progressed surprised everyone. The first shovel of dirt was turned in the spring of 1965 and the entire $750,000 project was completed by October of 1966 and under budget.

***** Currently, the oldest resident of the High Plains Manor is Marie Korf who will celebrate her 88th birthday on Nov. 21. Coincidentally, Marie has also been a Manor resident longer than anyone in his 50-year history. She has lived at the Manor for more than 23 years.

***** The High Plains Manor has become a multi-generational facility due to its own success and longevity. Donna Romine's story provides a good example. Roy and Ethel Snelling, her grandparents, moved into the Manor in 1980 and thrived there for seven years. Then Donna's mother, Edith Harr, moved into the Manor in 2006 and lived there until she passed away in 2014. Finally, Donna herself became a resident in 2008 and she remains a proud supporter of this affordable senior housing facility. "It is nice not having to mow the lawn or shovel the sidewalks," she said. "I enjoy the time we have playing cards, potluck, coffee and donuts, game night, Bingo and meeting on residents' porches for visits."

***** The Manor is home to another multi-generation family. Pearl Armagost was among the first residents in 1966. Her son and daughter-in-law, Mervin and Roberta, later became resident and today, their daughter, Marilynn Homm, call the Manor home.

***** The longest-serving board member was its first chairman, Jim Vincent, who often told family members that the High Plains Manor was one of his proudest accomplishments as a community leader in Yuma.

***** Jim Vincent remains the longest-serving board member at the High Plains Manor. His tenure ran 45 years from the time he was appointed chairman by former Mayor Russell Parrish in 1963 until 2008, the year he died at the age of 81.

***** Other board members at the Manor over the years have included Roger Shepherd (1977-1982), Ralph Spellman (1982-2001), Ann Gimeson (1983-1989), Don Starnes (1988-2011), J.A. Spiers (1989-1994), Rosalie Moran (1994-2004), Marlene Miller (1995-2014) and Marion Greenfield (2006-2015).







Thanks to Matt Vincent


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