50 years later, Friendship Manor remains a monument to how faith groups can work together to serve Utah’s elderly

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) It's the 50th anniversary of Friendship Manor at 500 S. 1300 East in Salt Lake City. Seniors take in a sitting yoga and stretching exercise class in the mornings.

It was a 1961 chat between a Unitarian minister and a Westminster College professor that proved the genesis for Salt Lake City’s Friendship Manor retirement community.

The Rev. Hugh Gillilan credited economics professor Robert Conrod for coming up with the idea that Nov. 30, 1961, day, as the two chatted in the school’s parking lot.

Gillilan’s First Unitarian Church soon was joined by Salt Lake City’s First Congregational Church, Holladay United Church of Christ and Congregation B’Nai Israel (now Congregation Kol Ami) in sponsoring the $3.5 million project.

On Dec. 13, 1965, ground was broken for the 14-floor, 178-unit facility on the corner of 500 South and 1300 East. Two years later, Friendship Manor opened its doors to elderly and disabled clientele.

A partnership with federal Housing and Urban Development programs also allowed subsidized housing to low-income renters in those categories.

On Saturday, from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Varsity Room of the Tower at nearby Rice-Eccles Stadium, 451 S. 1400 East, civic and religious leaders, staffers and tenants will celebrate Friendship Manor’s half-century of service — a golden anniversary for a building dedicated to the golden years.

“We’ll have a dinner, special speakers and live auctions for what will be a very lovely evening,” says Friendship Manor trustee Pat Gamble-Hovey, with entertainment coming from the Saliva Sisters, a musical comedy group.

The original sponsoring congregations remain involved today, each assigning four representatives to the facility’s oversight board. Their vision has been consistent through the decades, Gamble-Hovey says.

“The mission is as it always has been, to make certain Friendship Manor is well run, that people have a safe environment to live in, and with nutritional food and activities,” she says.

“We try to give our residents a reason to get up and get dressed and be part of the community. There’s no jammies allowed” in the dining and activities areas, Gamble-Hovey quips.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) It's the 50th anniversary of Friendship Manor at 500 S. 1300 East in Salt Lake City. Stefanie Brasher, resident at Friendship Manor, plays with her cat, Tuxedo, in the common area. Tuxedo likes to watch the fish in the aquarium.

Friendship Manor continues to offer its near-200 residents amenities ranging from an upscale dining room, exercise, hobby and craft spaces to a sheltered garden, laundry, mail, grocery shopping services, a barbershop and beauty salon, game and computer rooms, free parking and on-site health screenings and multifaith religious services.

Both residents and their families have praised Friendship Manor for living up to its name.

A 94-year-old woman commented on the center’s website that she had moved into a 14th-floor unit with her husband in late 1982.

“He passed away 10 years ago, but this is my home now,” she wrote, noting years of convenience, volunteer opportunities and the making of “good friends . . . . I expect to spend the rest of my life here.”

Another woman said she had moved her mother into Friendship Manor in the 1980s. Later, she, too, became a resident. “There have been many pleasant times and happy memories,” she wrote.

Sara Struhs, the site’s property manager, says that, in addition to the commitment of Friendship Manor’s staff, the residents help create a caring community.

“[It is] a special place,” she says. “Individuals come together from all backgrounds to face the challenges of aging . . . helping each other and looking out for each other.”

Five decades later, the tenets of those founding faiths still come to life in the tenants who call Friendship Manor home.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) It's the 50th anniversary of Friendship Manor at 500 S. 1300 East in Salt Lake City. Gennevieve Russell, 95, can't imagine moving from her apartment. She said that she has a lot of stuff she's collected over the years, especially Coca-Cola memorabilia. Russell has been a resident for nearly 14 years.