CHARLOTTE, Iowa - Thursday was a bittersweet day for people from the Charlotte community and former employees of the Community Care Inc. facility as they toured the building for what may be the last time.
In September, the company announced plans to move the remaining residents to other facilities and close the facility, which opened more than 150 years ago and evolved from the county "poor farm" to a facility for people with mental-health issues.
Community Care announced intentions to tear down the facility, but President and CEO Bill Bonnes said representatives will meet with the Charlotte City Council on Tuesday to offer the building to the city.
Asbestos must be removed from the site and the older portion of the building will be torn down, but there is still time to find another use for the newer portion of the building if anyone steps forward with a plan, said Steven Meyer, the company's chief financial officer.
Dozens of people toured the facility during a farewell open house Thursday, with former employees exchanging greetings and hugs and sharing stories about their time there.
Janie Chambers of Clinton started working at the facility in 1967, at the age of 15, doing a variety of tasks, from helping the residents to doing the laundry to working in the kitchen.
She credited Alex and Mary Kay Manikowski, who managed the facility for many years, with instilling in her a strong work ethic and a respect for residents of the facility.
"They were just the most incredible people," she said.
Chambers said she worked there eight years before moving on to better-paying jobs, but said her job at the Charlotte facility was the best she ever had.
"I can honestly tell you that I am a better person today than I would have been if I had never worked here," she said.
The Manikowskis' nephew, Bill Manikowski, recalled spending time there as a child. He said his aunt and uncle never had children of their own, but they treated the residents there like family.
Charlotte Mayor Marty Jahn, whose family's grocery store used to stock the commissary at the facility, said he isn't sure if the city council will be interested in taking over the building, but he would like to see the facility remain in use in some way.
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"It's sad to see something like this go," he said. "It is a blow to the community."
Jahn, who also serves on the town's fire department, recalled responding to a fire at the facility in 2007 and being amazed that the residents had all been safely evacuated from the building before the fire department got there.
"I think the staff they've had out here over the years is to be commended," Jahn said.
Sisters Ethel Waldorf and Nancy Hebeler of Clinton spent time at the facility visiting their grandparents, Bill and Jo Dohrmann, who ran the facility from 1937 to 1957.
They recalled playing baseball with their many cousins on the lawn and how much the residents enjoyed seeing children playing.
They said they understand that the older part of the facility has outlived its usefulness, but they will be sad to see the place torn down.
"They promised us a brick," Hebeler said.