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Not only was Bob Kauffman instrumental to helping fulfill the vision of the Hope Village senior living community, he also has the distinction of being the second guy to ever move in. Hey — they don’t call him Bob “Hope” for nothing.
Hope Village is the sprawling retirement community that helps anchor the south side of Canby. They are a large and active bunch, with a community garden and many other clubs and activities that meet regularly.
Many of its residents find their way across the street to the Canby Adult Center at least once or twice a week. And some of their events are a big deal even to the larger Canby community, like their annual Garage Sale, where it’s not unusual to see more than 100 people lined up before the doors open at 9 a.m.
But how did it all begin? With a church. Bob “Hope” — back when he was just Bob Kauffman — was a carpenter working for Ivan Kropf at the Yoder Mill back in the mid-1950s. They were working to build a new church in the Hubbard area, when an idea came to Ivan.
“He said it would be nice if we built a retirement community in this field here right next to the church,” Kauffman recalled.
Though they did pursue it, nothing ultimately came of that location — providing the needed water, sewer and other utility hookups for the development proved to be too difficult for that rural area — but the seeds of Hope had been planted. And over the next several decades, they would continue to grow.
Kauffman’s own church, Zion Mennonite in Hubbard and Calvary Mennonite in Aurora, soon joined forces to attempt to make the retirement village a reality. They envisioned an affordable, full-service retirement community, with provisions for health, recreation, spiritual and social needs.
It was an ambitious vision, to be sure, and one that proved to be too much for two little country churches, Kauffman said.
“After we got started, we soon realized it was too big of a job for our two small communities,” he said. “We had to get other churches involved.”
With the help of an attorney in Canby, Marv Bolin, the churches came together in 1983 under the umbrella of a newly established 501(c)(3) nonprofit entity. That was also when Hope Village got its name. It was originally an acronym: Housing Outreach Project for the Elderly, or H.O.P.E.
It was a big step, and for a long time, it was as far as they would get.
“It was a bit like chasing the wind at the beginning,” Kauffman remembered, “because we didn’t have a site for about six years. We looked at six or seven different sites. We considered Molalla, Silverton, Woodburn and two different sites in Hubbard, and none of them seemed to fit the bill.”
But the volunteers refused to lose hope. (Sorry.) In 1989, the stars aligned as the perfect property, located just south of the Canby city limits, hit the real estate market.
It was a field owned by Birkemeier Farms. The Birkemeier family were hazelnut farmers — though it hadn’t always been that way.
“The Birkemeiers were builders,” said Richard Birkemeier, son of Richard Dan Birkemeier — who owned the farm when he sold the property to Hope Village.
Richard Birkemeier’s grandfather, Dan, was involved in the construction of more than 100 bridges in and around the Portland area, including the iconic Arch Bridge in Oregon City, for which he served as construction superintendent.
Hundreds of Portland houses were built by Birkemeiers throughout the 20th century. But Richard Dan decided to go a different way.
“Dad, he wanted to branch out a bit,” said Richard Birkemeier. “He was always intrigued by farming, and that’s become our business still to this day.”
The field that would become the home of Hope Village was actually the first property that he bought when he decided to become a filbert farmer, and things did not start well. The year was 1962, the same year as the notorious Columbus Day storm (Oct. 12).
“The next morning, two-thirds of those trees were tipped over,” Birkemeier said. “It was kind of a rough start to the hazelnut business.”
Fortunately, they had already harvested their crop for that year. With the sandy soils in the Canby area, filberts are traditionally gathered a bit earlier. The Columbus Day storm hit two days after they finished.
Still, it was a devastating blow. Some of the trees were able to be replanted and salvaged, but many had to be replaced, which meant an additional 10 to 15 years before the trees became mature enough to start producing again.
The decision to sell the property in the 1980s came as the growth of Canby began to encroach on the farming operations. Kauffman said the Birkemeiers were sold on the idea after Hope Village proponents took them on a field trip to a retirement community in Albany, to give them a taste of what they wanted to build here in Canby.
The property was placed in escrow for several years until the purchase was completed in 1992. Five years later, the first residents moved in: Frank and Mavis Morris. (Bob “Hope” Kauffman was second.)
Richard Birkemeier’s mother, Margaret, also became a Hope Village resident in her later years.
“You know, I think that was part of what Dad had in mind when he sold the property to them, that it would be a place for them to go,” he said. “Dad never made it that far, but my mother did.”
During that time, the Hope Village board of directors also began negotiations with Marquis Quality Healthcare to lease a portion of their property for an assisted living facility. Marquis Hope Village, with 80 assisted living units and another 50 offering skilled nursing care, opened in 1998.
Through 2007, Hope Village built 13 rows of garden homes on their grounds, for a total of 138 homes. Cascade House, a 50-unit affordable apartment complex opened in June 1998, and another, The Meadows, came online in 2004.
Hear more from Bob “Hope” Kauffman on the story of Hope Village in Episode 105: Hope Springs Eternal.