TUCSON, Ariz. The 93-year-old Arizona Pioneers' Home in Prescott fittingly didn't get just a facelift. It's had an arterial transplant. Literally, new plumbing, from the ground up.
The 150-bed home, predating Arizona's 1912 statehood, remains a retirement residence only for faithful, longtime and pioneer Arizonans.
Arizona and Alaska are the only two states to operate such facilities.
Arizona's is restricted to people who have lived in the state for at least 30 years or who have worked in mining an original lifeblood industry of the state.
"It's been a joy; I've enjoyed every day," said Burnadean Chesley, who turned 87 on Tuesday and has lived in the Pioneers' Home for seven years. "It's just like living at home, except you don't have to clean up after yourself. You can't beat it."
"Everybody does seem to be doing their best to keep us happy," said Del Chesley, 85, who spent 15 years mining copper underground and has lived for six years in the home.
The Chesleys met and married at the home.
The Arizona Territorial Legislature created the Pioneers' Home in 1909, and the original red brick, three-story building with porticos was built for $25,000. It opened two years later.
It has been added to four times, and improvements since 1996 including upgraded fire suppression and a new fire alarm system, new kitchen and a stair tower refuge for potential evacuation, have cost about $5 million, said Superintendent Jeanine Dike.
The home, with a clear view of the historic Prescott Courthouse Square, was built with the idea of repaying faithful and longtime Arizona residents who helped pioneer and build the state.
The state appropriates more than $5 million annually for the home from its general fund, a miners' hospital fund paid for from state trust land and a state charitable fund. Meanwhile, revenue generated by residents of about $1 million is returned to the state.
Until 1916, the home was a men-only affair. But among its early women's residents was "Big Nose Kate" Elder, one-time companion of John Henry "Doc" Holliday.
Another was Sharlot Hall, who converted the original log-cabin territorial governor's mansion in Prescott into what is now the Prescott Historical Society's Sharlot Hall Museum.
In its formative statehood years early in the 20th century, mining was a gigantic industry seen as playing a key role in building the state. But it came with a high rate of illness and injury, leaving a lot of its workers destitute, Dike said.
"So it (the home) was to try to provide a safe place for them to be cared for and to age," Dike said. "And they looked at it as if anybody who had helped in developing the state and had invested that energy deserved the respect and the care that we could provide."
It has served 2,989 residents over the years, with two standards for admission:
Miners can enter at any age and in any state of disability.
Anyone else must have lived in Arizona at least 30 years, must be at least 65, ambulatory and independent.
Disabled miners do not pay anything, while other residents pay on a sliding scale based on financial need and ability to pay, Dike said.
The actual cost per resident is more than $3,000 a month, but each resident's Social Security check goes back to the state, less an allowance for medical insurance and $175 for personal needs, said deputy superintendent Carl Johnson.
"They're not getting a free ride, and they are paying nearly everything they have to stay here," he said.
The home, which has 34 private rooms, has a skilled-care area for residents whose conditions have changed to require more assistance.
The average stay is about four to five years, Dike said.
"Because people come here by choice when they're healthy, and then age in place, it has created a completely different dynamic than other long-term facilities," she said. "It's like taking care of your grandma and grandpa."
In most long-term care facilities, the typical admission comes from a hospital, and residents might not know each other.
"But because we know who they are, what they enjoy, what they stand for, we see a lot of interaction. And those who are healthy look out for the others," Dike said.
New admissions were temporarily halted in 2002, several months before plumbing renovations began, so there would be room to move people temporarily as work shifted through the home.
Some of the drainage pipes replaced were clay, preceding even galvanized metal. "They were old," she said.
Admissions are being restarted now.
Burnadean Chesley, who turned 87 on Tuesday, is a second-generation dweller in the home. Her mother, Nettie Meredith, another centenarian, lived there from 1997 to 2001, dying at age 102.
And there are two 100-year-old men in the home now, including Roy Fisk, who celebrated his 100th birthday on Sunday by dancing with his wife Dorothy a youngster of about 84, Dike said.