An eight-year search leads to a legacy in Cedar Falls 

The Evangelical Association determined in 1903 to build a home for aged church members in one of the denomination’s western states. During the next eight years, board members considered and rejected nine sites in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois. Finally, in 1911, an apparent gift from heaven arrived from an Iowa family. 

Henry Pfeiffer, Jr., and Annie Merner attended the German Evangelical Church at 9th and Clay Streets in Cedar Falls, and married in 1882. Henry ran a successful downtown drug store with his brother Gus before moving to St. Louis in 1891 and starting Pfeiffer Chemical Company, later to become Warner-Lambert Pharmaceuticals.  

Henry’s father died in 1903 and his mother in 1908. Three years later, he and Annie offered the family farmstead, at right, and $20,000 to the Evangelical Association for building The Western Old People’s Home. 

John G. Ralston of Waterloo designed the building, a near copycat of his earlier design for the Chickasaw County Home in New Hampton. Ralston also served as architect for Kingsley Elementary School in Waterloo; the Cattle Congress Hippodrome (now McElroy Auditorium); and the redesign of The Black Hawk Hotel in Cedar Falls.

Mr. and Mrs. Pfeiffer did not want personal recognition for their generosity; instead, they asked that their parents be honored. Two plaques, one each for the Merners and Pfeiffers, graced the original front porch (one is visible at far left of photo) and still hang inside an entrance today.

In 1946 a church merger created the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB). Another merger in 1968 created the United Methodist Church, which operated The Western Home until 1983, when it became an independent, not-for-profit community service organization. The organization spent its first 75 years in the original building with five additions. 

Around the time of its Diamond Jubilee Anniversary in 1987, plans were made to build one of Iowa’s first retirement communities. Willowwood debuted in 1989 across the street, the first of several construction projects that continue to this day.

During the past 27 years, Western Home Communities has developed a second campus in south Cedar Falls that now encompasses 150 acres and includes four independent living communities, an assisted living community with specialized memory support, two nursing cottages and nearly 200 villas for active living.  

Construction began in late 2015 on a $52 million project at the intersection of Caraway Lane and Prairie View Drive. It includes Prairie Wind, a three-story independent living community with 75 apartments; The Jorgensen Plaza for Well-Being, a wellness and community center with swimming pool, walking track, multi-purpose space, salon spa, convenience store, restaurant and outpatient therapy; and 60 private suites for restorative, rehab-to-home skilled care. Doors will open in 2017.  

The prophetic words from a 50-year historical sketch ring true today, in our 104th year.  

 “The Western Home…is on the threshold of a new frontier. The remarkable record of its past is a challenge for its future.”

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