Frigid weather can’t chill Covenant groundbreaking

Dignitaries take up golden shovels for a photograph at Covenant Place’s groundbreaking  ceremony Feb. 17. Photo: Andrew Kerman 

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

It was too cold outside to actually use the ceremonial gold-color shovels, but a groundbreaking ceremony last week indoors at Covenant Place nonetheless marked the beginning of work on the facility’s new home.

“This day is very meaningful for all of us who worked on this project for well over two years,” said Alan Witte, the organization’s board president. “We’re grateful for this occasion to celebrate your enthusiasm and support.”

That support has been substantial enough to allow the launch of Phase 1 of a multiyear project that will remake the senior housing facility’s footprint, eventually replacing at least two – and possibly all three – of Covenant’s buildings.

The Feb. 17 groundbreaking featured the unveiling of an artist’s rendering, remarks by officials,  the singing of “God Bless America” and the unfurling of a large American flag formerly flown over the U.S. Capitol. The flag had previously been presented to Sidney Rosen, 98, a Covenant resident and World War II veteran who stood at attention, saluting, during the song.


Various dignitaries also attended, sent representatives or forwarded remarks to the event.

“I’d like to thank you all for inviting me to share this special day with you,” state Treasurer Clint Zweifel told the group. “As Alan said, this has been a 40-year journey of providing quality care for seniors – not just quality care, but a quality life, too.”

Zweifel recalled visiting the campus as a newly elected state representative nearly a decade and a half ago.

“We had a lot of great discussions but one of the most important parts of that day was the chance that we had to tour Covenant House and really talk a little about the experience there,” he said. “What struck me about that day is that it really had a huge effect upon how I view aging, how I view quality of life, and how I view that as a son and grandson.”

Zweifel said that while senior facilities are often judged by outward appearances, other things set Covenant apart.

“There was a deeper understanding from every part of the Covenant House team – the administrative staff, board, volunteers, leadership – that retiring with dignity is more than just a material item,” he said. “It’s about creating a larger sense of community. It’s about creating a neighborhood. Really, it’s about supporting each other. Each of us has a responsibility to do that.”

State Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, whose grandmother once lived at Covenant, did not attend but introduced a senate resolution honoring the facility.

“Covenant Place is near and dear to my heart,” she wrote in remarks forwarded to the event. “Providing quality affordable housing honors our seniors and enhances our community. May its residents be blessed with happiness and good health.”

Representatives from the offices of Gov. Jay Nixon and County Executive Steve Stenger also came to the gathering.

“The State of Missouri’s support has been crucial in bringing the project to fruition, but this is not a new relationship,” Witte said, acknowledging the use of state tax credits, which are helping fund the project. “For 40 years, the Missouri Housing and Development Commission has been our partner in providing affordable housing to seniors.”

A host of supporters also were honored, including special recognition for lead donors Helene Mirowitz and the Jewish Federation’s Albert & Ruth Kopolow Fund.

“We’ve really been remarkably blessed in doing this project to have received the support of so many generous donors,” Covenant Place Executive Director Joan Denison said. “It’s been quite an experience to speak to people and really learn from you that you understand the ongoing and growing need of older adults to have this kind of community.”

Patty Croughan, chairwoman of the Federation board, said the facility represents not just apartments but an array of services and programs.

“The new Covenant Place complex will serve as a national model for delivery of such services,” she said. “This facility will continue to provide meaningful life opportunities for seniors living here and in the wider St. Louis County area, decreasing social isolation, improving health and wellness and overall quality of life.”

Richard Baron, CEO and co-founder of developer McCormack Baron Salazar Inc., said he was happy his company could be a part of making the project happen.

“To think about what it was like 3½  years ago when we had some initial conversations with the board and the question was how to fix the leaking pipes,” he said. “We’ve come a long way since then.”

Elizabeth Gorin, president of the tenant council, said residents are looking forward to better kitchen, laundry and closet facilities. She thanked the attendees for their generosity and recalled a meeting with Denison at the project’s outset.

“She asked us what we would change in our apartments,” she said. “We had no idea the answer would be a whole new Covenant Place.”

Completion of the first structure, the $20 million Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Building, is slated for spring of next year.