Ladies Home Community Gathers to Celebrate 125 Years



More than 125 guests and residents filled the front parlor of the University Mound Ladies Home on Thursday evening, November 12, to celebrate the Ladies Home's 125th anniversary. Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a proclamation declaring November 12 University Mound Ladies Home Day, and Assemblywoman Fiona Ma and State Senator Mark Leno also issued proclamations recognizing the Home’s essential service to San Francisco.

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The celebration brought together a wide range of supporters, including eldercare professionals, SFSU faculty and students, city health officials, family members, and residents of the Home’s Portola neighborhood — and, of course, the ladies themselves, many of whom dressed up for the occasion.

“I think this is just an incredible moment,” said San Francisco eldercare attorney Helene Wenzel. “From the time I first visited the Home — the front room looking like a parlor from maybe the 19th century — I've loved that it’s here for women of modest means, and that it was an old bachelor [businessman James Lick] who set it up."

Conservator Jay Egger said his clients at the Ladies Home “love it here. It is such a wonderful resource for the community, and I really appreciate the level of care that the ladies get.”

Portola resident Franco Mancini, president of Friends of McLaren Park, the advocacy group for the nearby park, called the event “amazing.” Mancini, who delivered newspapers to the ladies as a paper boy from 1952 to 1956, said “the memories are flooding back just walking into this place.”

For newly appointed Ladies Home board member Ronald Chan, a Bay Area human resources consultant and senior partner with Rockwell, Presto & Chan, the event was his introduction to the Home’s community of supporters. “Listening to and observing what happened tonight at this ceremony was to me an affirmation that I’ve become involved in something that is just terrific,” he said.

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The celebration featured tours of the Ladies Home, refreshments, historical displays, and remarks from several board members as well as executive director John Fecondo.

Board member John Sedlander, chief financial officer at the Institute on Aging, painted a vivid portrait of the Ladies Home’s early days in the 1880s, from its annual May Day festival to its “big flock of chickens that delivered fresh eggs.” The original Home was located in a drafty three-story wooden building and raised its own food on 25 acres of land. Sedlander noted that even in the 1930s, after the Home had sold half of that land and built the present Georgian Revival residence with the proceeds, the neighborhood’s roads still had no sidewalks. A walk to the Home could be either a dusty or a muddy proposition, depending on the season.

Board vice president Cristina Flores, who teaches gerontology at SFSU, spoke about the present-day Ladies Home and highlighted two key accomplishments during the past year. The Ladies Home has a new partnership with San Francisco State University that has already resulted in more than 2,600 student-hours volunteered to the Home. In addition, a hospice wing is in development under the direction of Christa Williams, and the Home has already begun accepting hospice patients.

Executive director Fecondo said it was an “absolute delight to see so many people filling the parlor here tonight.” He described the Ladies Home as unconventional: “In very simple terms, we on the one hand have the size and capacity and programming of a larger, more expensive facility. At the same time, based on the pricing and the culture and the family-like atmosphere and sensibility here, we feel like a board-and-care.” The Home’s goal, he said, is to deliver the highest-quality care to women of modest means, "and we need everybody’s support to do that.” He praised “the amazing contributions of the staff” and their willingness to adapt to the many changes that have taken place at the Ladies Home over the past year.

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As part of the celebration, the Ladies Home honored two Bay Area eldercare leaders, Dr. David Werdegar and Mary Schembri, MSW, for their decades of service to the community. Dr. Werdegar is the president and CEO of the Institute on Aging, and Ms. Schembri is the director of parish and community response for Catholic Charities CYO.

“Birthdays and anniversaries are important to celebrate,” said Dr. Werdegar, a former UCSF professor and department chair, health director for San Francisco, and director of the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. “These events help us look at where we are in the universe, so I’m especially pleased to be part of such an important birthday celebration as this.”

Reflecting on the enormous changes in society and technology since the Ladies Home’s founding in 1884, Dr. Werdegar noted that “some things remain the same no matter what. The passage of 125 years does not erase the fact that we as a society have an obligation to care for our elders — which is symbolized by the University Mound Ladies Home.”

Cristina Flores, who was described by a fellow board member as the “driving force” behind the partnership with SFSU, said she had been fortunate to meet Mary Schembri early in her career, so much so that “I’m probably here because of Mary.”

“You all have the potential to be mentors to the people coming up,” said Ms. Schembri, whose 38 years of social work in the Bay Area have included service with Lutheran Care for the Aging, the Commission on Aging, Hospice by the Bay, and Meals on Wheels. “It’s all about relationships and networking.... Think about how you can reach out and help this Home grow, because the aging population is growing, and we want to have nice models of care like this for all of us."

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In closing the program, Portola resident and board member Barbara Gersh encouraged guests to make a contribution to the Ladies Home, a nonprofit organization, by recalling her own motivation: “I got involved because I live in the neighborhood, but mostly because when I walked up here, I realized that I want University Mound to be here when I need it.”

Before and after the program, guests received guided tours of the Ladies Home, including a model room in the hospice wing, the chapel, the library, and the sunroom. Throughout the celebration, evocative tunes from the 1930s and 1940s were graciously provided by volunteer DJ Toby Cain, whom some locals recognized from his weekly “Toby’s Oldies” gig at Skip’s Tavern in Bernal Heights. David Peterson volunteered his services to photograph the celebration. The Home wishes to thank all of those who worked so hard to put on such a wonderful event, including the staff, the board of trustees, and the many volunteers.

If you missed the celebration but would like to be on the Ladies Home's e-mailing list for future events, or would like to visit or tour the Home, kindly email 125@ladieshome.org.


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