No longer leasing from Port parish, owners plan property improvements
The name on the deed has changed at Anita’s Garden, but not the familiar faces or the cozy atmosphere at the assisted-living facility in Port Washington.
After leasing the former rectory at 117 E. Van Buren St. from St. Mary’s Parish since 2006, owners Kathleen Mahoney and Bridgette Benavides have purchased the building that houses the 19-bed senior residential facility.
“This is something we have been talking with the church about for two or three years. It was always our goal to own the building,” Benavides said.
“I think we’ve become a part of the community. It had gotten to the point where if we couldn’t buy the building, we were going to have to look at relocating. We like it here and really didn’t want to leave.”
Benavides said their relationship with the parish has always been good, Still, she noted, it will be much easier to make improvements on the building now that they own it.
“When we started this business and long before we even thought about buying the building, Kathy and I put our life savings, $180,000, into making improvements and bringing it up to code for use as an assisted-living facility,” she said.
Mahoney said they used their own money to make safety improvements to the building before they owned it, including installing a sprinkler system and “wander guards” on doors, as well as making bathrooms ADA compliant.
“Our accountant said we couldn’t keep spending money on rent, but if it came down to it, I know I would have fought the idea of leaving here. It has become our home and a real labor of love,” Benavides said.
Their lease on the building was scheduled to expire next March.
As owners of the building, Benavides and Mahoney said, they would like to “improve the curb appeal of the building,” if they get the blessing of city officials.
Those upgrades would include adding an exterior sign and possibly creating tiered flower beds on the hillside fronting Wisconsin Street. New flooring and an improved air-handling system are also being eyed.
“Whenever possible, we make a point of using local vendors. We want to be supporters of the local economy and be an asset to the community,” Benavides said.
The building has six first-floor bedrooms and nine second-floor rooms, four of which are designed for double occupancy.
The owners said the facility has averaged close to full occupancy since it opened.
“I would say we have something like a 98% occupancy rate,” Mahoney said.
The owners credited the compassionate staff for the home’s reputation for being patient-centered.
“There was a bit of a learning curve at first, but we have gotten to the point where I think we have a ‘dream team’ for our staff,” Benavides said.
“You can teach people how to do a job, but you can’t teach people to have heart. Everyone who works here has a real compassionate heart for our residents.”
The facility has 14 employees, up from the early days when there were five employees — including Benavides and Mahoney, who were on call virtually around the clock.
As an age-in-place facility, Benavides said, dealing with residents as they approach the end of their lives is probably the biggest challenge.
The facility has averaged about four deaths a year, and none of the original residents are still alive.
“It can be so difficult when we lose one of our residents. Still, it is also so rewarding to sit with them as they approach their celestial discharge,” Benavides said.
The facility was named in memory of Benavides’ late mother, Anita.
Moving forward, the owners said they are working on plans to open a second assisted-living facility in Ozaukee County next year.
Image Information: ANITA’S GARDEN RESIDENT Jane C. Smith was embraced by owners Bridgette Benavides (center) and Kathleen Mahoney. Smith has lived at the Port Washington assisted-living facility since 2007. Now that the operators of the facility have purchased the building from St. Mary’s Catholic Parish, they intend to make several upgrades. The home is named in honor of Benavides’ late mother, Anita, whose portrait stands in the entryway. Photo by Mark Jaeger