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The Bay View Compass Covers Our North Side Project

By July 2, 2013April 18th, 2024No Comments13 min read

Check out the article the Bay View Compass wrote about our North Side Project:

St. Ann Center to open second facility on north side

July 1, 2013

By Sheila Julson & Katherine Keller 

Frontage Picture2

Sister Edna Lonergan is pursuing an ambitious dream that would serve one of the city’s most impoverished areas. The $18 million dollar project will be privately funded. —image courtesy Zimmerman Architectural Studios

Sister Edna Lonergan, founder and president of the St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care in St. Francis, plans to break ground for a second facility on Milwaukee’s north side in September.

St. Ann is a nonprofit, community-based project of the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, 3221 S. Lake Drive. It serves children and adults through daycare programs at their facility, 2801 E. Morgan Ave.

The north side development will be named St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care Bucyrus Campus.

Tim Sullivan, former Bucyrus International CEO, is leading the capital campaign to raise $18 million dollars through private funding for the 80,000-square-foot facility. Lonergan is not seeking city, county, or state funds but may seek bridge financing with a local bank to cover potential funding gaps that may arise.

St. Ann Center purchased the pentagonal-shaped 7.5 acre parcel for $1 from the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee in the Metcalfe Park neighborhood. Located in the city’s 15th aldermanic district, it is bounded by North 24th and 25th streets and West Meinecke, Medford, and North avenues in a community whose population is 97 percent African-American, Lonergan said. The parcel has been vacant for more than five decades; it was part of the swath of Milwaukee neighborhoods demolished for the abandoned Park West Freeway project.

Three Decades

Under Lonergan’s leadership, the four-bed adult-daycare center, which started out in the basement of the convent’s infirmary in 1983, has grown to the 14 programs that daily serve more than 200 children, older adults, and people with disabilities. The present 60,000-square-foot facility was built in 1999.

In 2011, 130 people were employed and 372 volunteers donated over 21,493 hours. The annual budget exceeds $5 million, according to a report by the city’s Redevelopment Authority.

Lonergan is an occupational therapist and has a master’s degree in gerontology.

Members of the youngest generation interact with members of older generations in daily activities at St. Ann’s, providing the intergenerational component of the program that Lonergan said deeply enriches its participants.

St. Ann’s provides dementia-specific care plus comprehensive community-based nursing and health care. Rehabilitative outpatient services, personal, psychosocial, medical, and nursing care are available. Clients may receive occupational, physical, speech, massage and restorative therapy, pastoral and caregiver support, medical care, water therapy, and art and music therapy.

Another program is 24-hour respite care, which is akin to a bed and breakfast for people with special needs. The clients are given their own room and are cared for by St. Ann’s staff, allowing family members or caregivers needed time-off for rest, a holiday, or business travel.

The center includes an indoor pool, hair and nail salon, boutique, and indoor winter-farmers-market. Water exercise and swim lessons are offered.

The north side campus will offer the same services and amenities but unlike the south side, it will include a medical clinic and dentist office.

Lonergan speaks of the dentistry service with enthusiasm because the office will be accessible, adapted for people with severe disabilities who are confined to a wheelchair and who cannot transfer to a dentist chair. The office will be equipped with a device that accepts a chair, even a large, heavy power wheelchair, enabling the dentist or hygienist to raise, lower, and tilt patients.

People with severe disabilities are underserved often because of income barriers or by the nature of their disability. “Many people with severe disability can’t tell us if they have pain,” she said. “They can’t afford dental care. Medicaid will pay for a tooth extraction but not an anesthetic, if they need more than Novocaine! They don’t receive prophylactic care (regular check-ups and cleaning). They’re lucky if they get their dentures removed and cleaned once a month.”

Innovative Facility


The 7.5 acre parcel at 24th Street and North Avenue in Milwaukee will be transformed from a vacant lot strewn with litter and rubble to a park-like setting with trees, flower and vegetable gardens, and walkways.  —image Zimmerman Architectural Studios

Designed by Zimmerman Architectural Studios, the two-story complex will house a unit for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients on the second floor. It will feature a glass-covered walkway with an herb garden. “The clients will feel like they’re outside and they can pace with comfort and safety,” Lonergan said. “If they take a leaf and have a nibble, it will be edible.”

Clients’ food will be prepared in their kitchen, emulating the St. Francis facility. The center provides a light breakfast, hot meal for lunch, and snacks for the clients who spend the whole day with them. Lonergan hopes to stock the pantry with produce from gardens to be developed on the site. She said St. Ann’s prepares its own food because it would be impossible for an outside vendor to deal with the variety and complexity of their clients’ dietary needs.

The building and landscape plans incorporate ideas and suggestions made by staffers at the south side facility and by members of the north side community. In the past three years, as she was planning the new center, Lonergan met with people who live in the north side neighborhood to ask them about services they needed and for their ideas and suggestions. One that hit home was a woman’s request for “a place where people could walk in a park-like setting with trees and gardens.”

Indoor Playground

Adapted swing in indoor playground. —image Zimmerman Architectural Studios

Lonergan is very excited by the indoor intergenerational playground with “swings for people of all ages and abilities.” There will be a device that lifts a wheelchair and swings it back and forth because swinging is a delight that all people deserve to experience, she said.

An indoor pool is part of the design “so that all the children will learn how to swim.” An outdoor water pad will offer summer fun and serve as a cooling station.

A band shell that seats 500 will be a venue for music, plays, and dramatic works, some performed by the center’s youthful clientele. She anticipates the choirs of neighborhood churches would use it.

The respite center on the south side features European-themed rooms, each decorated according to its namesake’s culture, such as the French maison room. Lonergan said the respite care rooms at the north side facility would be named after Southern states, in homage to Milwaukee’s African-Americans who migrated from the South during the 1950s and 1960s.

The north side facility will house a chapel, hair and nail salon, café, and African-village-themed décor with retail shops offering African jewelry and artifacts. (The walls of the atrium in St. Francis are painted to look like a street of an old European village.)

The new center will provide daycare and early education services for 290 children. 40 children will be served in the after school program.  Daycare will be provided for 35 frail/elderly adults, 70 adults with developmental disabilities,  and 30 dementia clients. There will be nine rooms in the respite care center.

Expansion Well Received

Lonergan said that she is grateful for the warm reception she has been given by the residents of the city’s 15th Aldermanic District. She praised Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines, Jr., who represents the district, for his interest and assistance.

She praised Mayor Barrett and Rocky Marcoux, head of the city’s Department of City Development, who “gave me a lot of their time and encouragement.” Marcoux drove her around the city to show her potential sites for the development.

“Sr. Edna and St. Ann’s Center for Intergenerational Care have done wonderful work, and the organization’s growth at the North Avenue site is a very positive development,” said Marcoux. “The lives of people, young and old, who participate in St. Ann’s programs are enriched. The neighborhood wins because a valuable organization is investing in a new facility. The Mayor, the Common Council, and the Department of City Development are all enthusiastic about St. Ann’s plans.”

Hines said many of his district’s residents have a strong interest and desire to bring St. Ann Center to the community. “We’re really excited by the opportunity to provide outstanding services in this district,” he said.

Lonergan established a partnership with the congregation of Parklawn Assembly of God, who is sponsoring the construction of the band shell and receiving naming rights. “We’re excited to be working with St. Ann Center,” said Pastor William Harvey. He said that the 104-year-old congregation’s interest in the north side community includes bringing social and economic development to the area. They partner and network with faith-based organizations and churches to serve the minority population and bring services to people in their community.

Lonergan is also eager to partner with organizations and businesses in the community such as Walnut Way Conservation Corp, a neighborhood-based community development organization and Coffee Makes You Black, a coffee shop housed in a renovated bank building. “I love Coffee Makes You Black,” she effused. “Oh, it’s so good. They have catfish for breakfast. And grits. That’s my kind of breakfast!”

She sees potential partnerships with the people and programs of Fondy Farmers Market, 2200 W. Fond du Lac Ave, only two blocks from the future center. Along with the market, she expects to partner with Hope School and other churches and organizations.

She projects that the center will create about 150-200 full- and part-time jobs plus hundreds of volunteer positions. “We could not do all that we do without our wonderful volunteers!” Lonergan said.

Lonergan wants to hire people who live in the community. She said the St. Francis center works with 600 volunteers, and Lonergan expects to work with about 400 volunteers and interns on the north side.

Good Fit

When Marcoux showed her the land at 24th and North Lonergan said, “I knew right away that that was it, without a doubt. I follow my gut. I also prayed, because that is what I do, and I put it out there. I talked to the people of the community. It’s just sailed without bumps in the road. I know money is going to come. I just know it.”

When she began researching the neighborhood, Lonergan said she discovered a large population without access to services its residents need. People with Alzheimer’s and frailties are underserved she said, and the community needs more preschool programs.

Five-day/24-hour childcare, Monday through Friday, for working parents is another of Lonergan’s goals. “Very often a parent has a night job and can’t watch the children. A lot of single parents need nighttime placement (for their children). Their child could be with us. We’ll be open for overnight respite care anyway,” she said. “But all these things take time. It took 14 years in St. Francis to get all the operations up and running.”

Lonergan characterizes the neighborhood, though one of the most impoverished in the city, as dynamic with “highly creative and warm, warm people” who have welcomed and encouraged her and shared ideas. “I always say something doesn’t need fixing, it needs fixing up,” she said.

Referencing the neighborhood’s reputation for a high crime rate, Lonergan said, “I haven’t experienced that. I have experienced a rich culture. I love it. I just feel that St. Ann’s is fitting like a glove. It’s a feeling that I have found very uplifting and enriching.”


Lonergan said Bucyrus (now Caterpillar in South Milwaukee) was instrumental in partnering with St. Ann Center from the beginning. Former Bucyrus CEO Tim Sullivan will lead the capital campaign to raise the $18 million dollars through donations and grants.

“He has a heart of gold! He’s adopted a couple of our clients…he pays for their care. He’s helping us get donations and working with a lot of foundations and worked with the city for the donated land (sold for a $1),” Lonergan said.

Sullivan said his mentor, the late Marty Stein (Milwaukee businessman—Stein Drugs and Stein Optical—and philanthropist), introduced him to Lonergan about 12 years ago. “Once I toured St. Ann’s and once I understood the intrinsic value of intergenerational care, it was not a difficult decision to become involved with the center,” he said. Stein asked him to run a capital campaign to raise $4 million for the addition of a respite center (that opened in 2007). “The campaign was very untraditional as it only lasted a year and we reached our goal by soliciting literally thousands of very small donations,” Sullivan said. “The north side campaign will require a much different effort to be successful; however, I am confident that we will raise the necessary funds.”

“Intergenerational care should be in every neighborhood in the United States. Give me an area that is very underserved, an area that could really benefit from an intergenerational facility, and we’ll build one there.”
—Sister Edna Lonergan

John McCarthy, founder and principal of Milwaukee-based McCarthy Grittinger Weil Financial Group is leading the “Blessed Assurance Pledge” campaign.

“He’s just a wonderful man. He’s going part-time at his firm and is going to devote more time to building the center. He’s got a developmentally disabled child. We care for her now and then,” Lonergan said.

McCarthy said he was introduced to St. Ann Center by a client, who urged him and his wife Cathy to tour the center, when she learned of their daughter Maggie who is cognitively disabled. He said Maggie has stayed in the Respite Care Center in the past several years where he knows she is well-cared for and safe.

Lonergan shared her dream of the north side center with McCarthy, but also her concern that the St. Ann Centers will need an endowment to maintain and ensure their work. She told him about what she calls the “Blessed Assurance Pledge.”

Sister Edna Lonergan —photo Katherine Keller

Sister Edna Lonergan —photo Katherine Keller

McCarthy said he was drawn into her web and became emotionally committed to do his part to fulfill her dream. “She’s an amazing person with an audacious dream. I am grateful if I can do my part in a small way,” he said.

The plan, named after one of Lonergan’s favorite hymns, “Blessed Assurance,” is a structured, multi-year charitable financial pledge plan of small, affordable monthly payments. McCarthy’s goal is to build a sustaining endowment of $10 million. “If someone gives $83.33 a month, that’s $1,000 in 12 months,” he said.

At the end of June, McCarthy is selling his business interest in his firm to his partners, opening up time for him to build the sustainable endowment.

“The Blessed Assurance Pledges is a way for people who can’t give a lot to give something. We’re going to need a strong endowment,” Lonergan said.

Another fundraiser, a gala and benefit themed “Under the Tuscan Sun,” will be held July 11.

Good People

As the Compass interview was drawing to a close, Lonergan became pensive. “We’ve been planting seeds for three years,” she reflected. “I can’t believe it’s been that long. There have been many baby steps but they’ve all been important. We needed to go into the area and find out who the people are and what they need and to find out what they feel is needed and what they want and don’t want and how to make it as inclusive and as mutual as possible.”

Lonergan, despite her effusive enthusiasm, occasionally expresses a little worry. “We have received a lot of encouragement and were blessed with a generous amount of time from city officials, but it’s just that we need more money,” she allowed.

Another pause, this time a long one.

When she returned to our conversation she was subdued and spoke softly, “I just opened an envelope. I can’t tell you who or what foundation but I am holding a check for $50,000. The envelope was here on my desk. I don’t think I have ever held a check this large, handwritten,” she said.

Lonergan and her associates have raised $9.5 million of their $18 million goal.


1983 St. Ann Adult Daycare opened in basement of convent’s St. Ann’s Infirmary (now Juniper Court)

1987 The Adult Day Program/30 clients moved to newly remodeled Leandra and St. Francis Hall in the basement of St. Francis Convent

1990 Outpatient Rehabilitation Department opened

1994 First House Raffle

1996 Benevolent Touch Program launched

1999 St. Ann Center for Intergenerational Care opened its doors

The Child Day Center was opened

1999 Shepherd House Alzheimer’s and dementia unit opened

2001 St. Ann Center wins National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare First Place Service to Seniors Award

2003 20th Anniversary Celebration

2007 Overnight Respite Center Opened

2008 25th Anniversary Celebration

2008 & 2009 St. Ann Center wins Generations United’s Intergenerational Shared Site Best Practices Award

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