By Katy Beedle Rice

Near the heart of Haines, only two blocks from Main Street sits Haines Assisted Living, a living facility for seniors. Ten seniors call Haines Assisted Living home and five more live in the adjoining apartments, called St. Lucy’s Senior Living. Before Haines Assisted Living and St. Lucy’s Senior Living opened on October 1, 2009, seniors needing more care than they or their family were able to provide in Haines, were forced to look for care in Juneau or beyond. Deacon Vince Hansen, who serves at Sacred Heart Parish in Haines, was one of the founding members of Haines Assisted Living and is the current executive director. He remembers, “Seniors were leaving in droves. There was so much history that left and we wanted to keep that history [in Haines], keep those people here because they definitely have value and we’ve seen it in what they can teach us. They’ve all had a part in the development of our community and have great stories and history to share. People also want to keep their family together and Haines Assisted Living has allowed them to do that.”

Deacon Hansen visits with Erma Schnabel and Ray Menaker in the Haines Assisted Living dining room.  (Photos by Christine Hansen)
Deacon Hansen visits with Erma Schnabel and Ray Menaker in the Haines Assisted Living dining room. (Photo by Christine Hansen)

For Deacon Vince the administration of Haines Assisted Living is more than just a career, it’s part of his vocation as a deacon. In 2006, when Deacon Vince was preparing for ordination to the diaconate, he was also in the planning stages with other residents of Haines to build an assisted living facility for seniors. On August 10th, 2006, Deacon Vince was ordained, along with Deacon Charles Rohrbacher, by Bishop Michael Warfel. Deacon Vince recalls, “Once I was a deacon [Bishop Warfel] gave us both our orders, and he told me, your mission of charity will be to work with the seniors of Haines and specifically to see that this assisted living [facility] comes into place.” In carrying out this ministry to the senior population of Haines, Deacon Vince also visits seniors in their homes and has served on the Hospice board in Haines. Though he currently is not involved in hospice, he feels closely connected to this organization, which he volunteered with for several years. Hospice care can also be provided to residents of Haines Assisted Living; “We’ll do everything we can to keep [residents] till the end [of their lives],” Deacon Vince affirms.

Reflecting on the team effort involved in seeing Haines Assisted Living to fruition, Deacon Vince names Haines residents Lucy Harrol, Jim Studley and Dan Austin as having the necessary vision, while he worked on the nuts and bolts to pull all the pieces together required to license the facility and hire a staff. As part of this process Deacon Vince became a Certified Nurses Aide, a requirement in order for him to serve as the administrator for the facility. “I was never interested in a medical profession,” Deacon Vince shares, “but I learned a lot.” Along with simply providing a space for seniors to continue to live in Haines, Deacon Vince is proud of the high level of care offered by Haines Assisted Living. “Most of our [operating budget] goes into staffing,” he says. “We want to make sure that things go smoothly and that people are taken care of. We want everyone to be safe, clean and comfortable, and have things to do.”

Deacon Vince Hansen and his wife, Jansy, share stories with Haines Assisted Living Facility resident, Lucy Harrell.
Deacon Vince Hansen and his wife, Jansy,visit with Haines Assisted Living Facility resident, Lucy Harrell. (Photo Christine Hansen)

Its central location has made Haines Assisted Living a vital part of the community. Jansy Hansen, Deacon Vince’s wife, works as an elementary school teacher in Haines and she’s witnessed the importance of keeping elders in a community: “There have been grandkids who are walking home from school who will swing in and see grandma. [Haines Assisted Living] has a very family feel to it. It doesn’t have an institutional flavor.” Deacon Vince adds, “Kids from the school will come over and sing and share and the residents will share what they can as well, and there’s that interaction.” Along with visiting friends, family and community members, residents of Haines Assisted Living can also be found cooking and baking in the communal kitchen, being entertained by local musicians in the foyer, or attending concerts and plays at the Chilkat Center for the Arts.

As Haines Assisted Living approaches its 5th anniversary, Deacon Vince remembers the first years of operation, where, in his role as administrator, a 60 to 70 hour work week was not uncommon. There was one night when a resident, who was close to death, was in distress and Deacon Vince was called in to assist in the middle of the night. Considering the event now, Deacon Vince reflects, “It’s in pouring yourself out, as tired as you might be, knowing that you helped that person through, that you realized it was needed, and it was what God wanted you to be doing.” At another time, Deacon Vince remembers, “We had a person who went through the stages where mental capacity was affected and she was calling out in the night and I ended up sitting up with her as she died. She was nervous to the end, but whenever she was fidgeting, I would say ‘You are not alone,’ and that was all she needed to hear at the end of her life. She responded to that until she died.”

In his ministry to the elders of Haines, Deacon Vince mixes the contemplative ministry of simple presence, with the day-to-day operations of running a facility. In recognition of the many areas of ministry and service he provides to the community of Haines, Deacon Vince was recently nominated for the Catholic Extension’s national Lumen Christi award by Bishop Burns of the Diocese of Juneau. Though this national award (as of early May 2014) has been finalized down to nine candidates from other U.S. dioceses, Deacon Vince and Haines Assisted Living are an undeniable source of light and life in the community of Haines. Perhaps Lucy Harrol, current resident and founding member of Haines Assisted Living says it best: “Growing old is not for sissies, but this place makes it surprisingly pleasant.”