When the first wave of Finnish immigrants in Lake Worth grew old, a Finnish speaking resting home was born.
“The basic idea why this was built was there were a lot of Finnish people in the area that didn’t even speak English,” said Pirjo-Leena Koskinen, 65, manager of what used to be the Finnish-American Resting Home and is now The Village on High Ridge. “They felt lost in the hospitals and nursing homes, and the Finnish community came together.”
In 1973, the Finnish community established the Finnish-American Resting Home Inc., a non-profit Finnish-only assisted living facility for elders, and an accompanying nursing home for seniors who required 24-hour supervision.
The nursing home has welcomed all nationalities since its inception, but in December 2011, after 38 years of the assisted living facility accepting only Finns, the corporation updated its policy to welcome people of all nationalities and changed the facility’s name.
Now, The Village on High Ridge assisted living facility, located at 1800 South Drive, houses its first non-Finnish residents who are of American, Italian and Norwegian descent.
Koskinen said the change was inevitable because the Finnish speaking community in Lake Worth has diminished.
“When people [Finns] come here today, they already know the language, and they are already well-integrated,” said Koskinen, adding that the kind of a place the assisted living facility used to be is no longer needed.
But Koskinen said the facility still has a disproportionate ratio with 80 percent of its population Finnish and only 20 percent of other backgrounds.
Koskinen said that is because non-Finns are sometimes hesitant to move in.
“Sometimes, they are a little bit worried about the food, maybe it’s too Finnish, and about the language,” said Koskinen. “But once they get in here, everybody is happy, no one is complaining.”
June Rantanen, 71, chairman of the Finnish-American Rest Home Inc., said some Finnish attributes residents quickly embrace are the facility’s traditional wooden sauna available after showers and the personal baker, who bakes cakes on special occasions and serves Finnish cardamom sweet bread.
“It’s a braided Finnish recipe bread that’s a daily thing at 2:45 p.m.,” said Rantanen about the sweet bread, adding that residents look forward to pairing it with their midday coffee.
Still, the assisted living facility remains short of diversity and residents.
This fall, the corporation plans to expand the facility and begin construction on a new memory care unit that will accommodate 30 patients. It’s expected to attract more elders of all backgrounds as well as fill a community need.
“With the Baby Boomers coming of age the need for beds for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients is increasing,” said Koskinen. “It’s important that we have a place where we could put people with exit-seeking behavior so they can go out freely, and they could be safe and secure.”