A foursome with vision

Decades ago, 'Four Horsemen' saw need for retirement village

Decades ago, 'Four Horsemen' saw need for retirement village

September 28, 2005

There's a party soon for Don Dayhoff and Earl Wolf, but they don't see a need for all the fuss now.

To them, their place in history is already being celebrated in the daily use of the cottages and buildings that is Ravenwood Lutheran Village - the dream they pursued for years.

Dayhoff, Wolf, building contractor Leslie Earley Sr., and railroad retiree Sam LeFevre became known as the "Four Horsemen" for their tireless efforts to convince others of the need for the retirement community. Earley, who represented St. Mark's Lutheran, and LeFevre, who represented Zion Lutheran in Williamsport, have since died.


"It was their dream that made it a reality," said Vicki Thompson, advancement director for Ravenwood. "They had the vision before anyone else, they saw the need."

So Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries, which owns the retirement village now, is holding a celebration.

The event will be at Zion Lutheran on Sunday, Oct. 2 - 30 years after fundraising began to buy the land off Frederick Street in Hagerstown for Ravenwood.

The idea for such a facility in Washington County came to Dayhoff in the late 1960s. That was long before the assisted living, cottages and Alzheimer's units that are common now.

Dayhoff was a local builder and a member of Trinity Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, and he had aging relatives.

"I was surrounded by older people and saw a need," recalled Dayhoff, who is 78. With the National Lutheran Home, now in Rockville, Md., the closest Lutheran nursing facility, he was concerned Washington County residents wouldn't want to be 75 to 150 miles away from family and friends.

So in 1967, he wrote to his pastor expressing the desire for a Lutheran retirement village locally.

After several false starts, a committee was formed in 1969.

Les Ridenour, of St. Peter's Lutheran in Clear Spring, was initially on the committee, serving as chair. After two years though, he was appointed to the board of the National Lutheran Home and resigned.

Wolf, a member of St. John's Lutheran in Hagerstown, became chairman.

He was perfect for the job, Dayhoff said. Wolf was a strong leader, who never gave up and was meticulous in everything, Dayhoff said.

While the Four Horsemen became their unofficial name, their endurance in the face of the obstacles they were to face might well have earned them another name, said Wolf, who is now 88.

"Don said we should have been called the Four Bulldogs. We never let go," he said.

Traveling in Earley's "big Cadillac," Wolf said, they toured facilities in Washington, D.C., Gettysburg, Quincy and Chambersburg, Pa., gathering information and hearing along the way that they'd never be able to raise enough money in Washington County.

Soon, the denomination's regional leadership agreed to explore the idea and formed their own task force. The Four Horsemen became inactive, with Wolf serving on the Synod Task Force for about two years.

However, while the need for a retirement community here was realized, the Synod chose not to take action.

But Wolf wasn't giving up.

Through the task force, he had learned that retirement communities were being built in Pennsylvania by Tressler Lutheran Services. With encouragement from the Rev. David Bollinger, who worked there, the Four Horsemen renewed their efforts.

They looked at several sites before choosing the land across Frederick Street from what is now the Breyers/Good Humor ice cream plant. It was estimated it would cost $2 million to develop the land and build.

In 1975, the committee met with 100 representatives from almost all the Lutheran churches in Washington County. Letters of blessing from the local churches were presented to the Synod Executive Board, but the synod wouldn't give permission to build until an assistant to the bishop and a local pastor intervened.

Tressler had agreed to develop the retirement village and manage it if local Lutheran churches could raise $300,000 to buy the land.

So in September, the fundraising began. By the following January, the entire sum had been raised.

First to be built was the nursing center and 12 cottages. Dayhoff designed the latter, and Earley's company won the bid to build the nursing center.

Dayhoff's mother-in-law and his wife's aunt and uncle were some of the first residents to move into the cottages in February 1979. A day later, a blizzard delivered a foot of snow.

In 2000, Tressler merged with Lutheran Services of the Northeast and formed Diakon. The new company built The Village at Robinwood later to provide additional cottages and an assisted living facility.

Looking back, Wolf and Dayhoff say the project they undertook turned out to take a lot longer than they ever imagined.

"We didn't think about how much time we were spending. We just wanted to get the job done," said Wolf, who now lives in a cottage at Ravenwood.

"Oh, it only took nine years out of our lives," he said with a laugh.

The Four Horsemen Celebration Dinner will be held Sunday, Oct. 2, with a reception at 4:15 p.m. and dinner at 5 p.m. Dr. Daun McKee, CEO of Diakon Lutheran Social Ministries, will speak.

Entertainment will be provided by the Red-Breasted Robins of Ravenwood/Robinwood Kazoo Band, the Red Hat Society group of the two facilities. Musician and comedian Bert Lange will also perform.

Tickets are $30 per person and the proceeds will benefit the program of benevolent care at Ravenwood Lutheran Village and the Village at Robinwood. The benevolence fund provides subsidized care for the assisted living residents who have legally exhausted their resources.

For more information and to buy tickets, contact Vicki Thompson at 301-790-3001.

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