Did You Know? A History of St. William’s Living Center – Part 4

In 1960, Fr. Joseph Vogrin succeeded in his plan to turn a dilapidated old hospital into a rest home and care center. But getting the new home up and running was much easier said than done.

In Part 4 of our series about the history of St. William’s Living Center, we’ll take a look at just how close the home came to closing in those early years. And we’ll introduce you to a kind-hearted woman whose hard work and diligence saved the struggling facility.

The Lean Years

Times were tough during the early days of St. William’s Rest Home. Fr. Vogrin faced criticism from local Protestants, who, at the time, were the majority of residents in Parkers Prairie. They remembered the struggle that the Franciscan sisters had had just a few years earlier and they were hesitant to reserve rooms in the new facility that was owned by the Catholic Church.

To cut down on costs, Fr. Vogrin didn’t take a salary for many years. He served as the bookkeeper, maintenance man, and janitor. During the lean years, the home relied heavily on church volunteers to fill the staffing hours.

Fr. Vogrin Appeals to the County and the Protestants

Fr. Vogrin turned to Otter Tail County for help. He reached out to the state hospital in Fergus Falls for resident referrals.

He also took strides to improve the relationship between the rest home and the Protestant community. Fr. Vogrin developed friendships with local Protestant clergy members. Eventually, he asked them to visit the residents in the home and encouraged them to hold their own religious services in the chapel.

Because of his progressive moves, Fr. Vogrin was able to fill more beds and keep the home afloat during its early years.


Attracting nurses was almost impossible because of the meager pay that the rest home offered. In 1962, Fr. Vogrin entertained the idea of turning the home into a full-fledged nursing home. This meant that he needed to expand the home to hold more residents. If he could do this, he could afford to hire a full-time nursing staff.

Fr. Vogrin approached the Diocese about expanding the facility and his proposition was approved. Construction on the expansion project was completed in 1963 and the rest home name was officially changed to St. William’s Nursing Home.

Now that he had a larger nursing home to run, Fr. Vogrin needed some help. He knew that he needed to hire a nurse who would work minimal hours for very little pay. And his prayers were answered by someone just up the road in Millerville.

Cyrilla Bitzan

Cyrilla Bitzan was a farmer’s wife and mother to ten children, but she had always secretly dreamed of becoming a nurse. When a nursing program opened up at the technical college in Alexandria, she jumped at the opportunity.

After graduating first in her class, Cyrilla accepted a job with the Douglas County Hospital in Alexandria. Fr. Vogrin knew that Cyrilla had a full-time nursing job lined up and he was okay with that. He asked her to help run his nursing home in her free time. An amazingly giving woman, Cyrilla said yes.

Under Cyrilla’s watchful eye, the nursing home prospered. She insisted that the facility should look and smell inviting, not like a medical facility, but like a true home. Many nursing homes at the time would bar visitors during flu season, but Cyrilla would have none of that. Family and children were always welcome at St. William’s.

The Nursing Home Continues to Prosper

Next week, we’ll continue with our story and discuss how St. William’s Nursing Home continued to grow and prosper through the decades following its opening. You don’t want to miss it!

Are you looking for a new career? Consider becoming a certified nursing assistant! It’s a gratifying job with lots of opportunity for advancement. Visit our website to learn more about careers in this rewarding field.

Information for this post was taken from the book Beyond Measure, written by Fr. Jeff Ethen, copyright 2000 Central Minnesota Catholic Publishers