Bethesda Celebrates 115th Anniversary of Founding
(Watertown, Wis.) – Bethesda Lutheran Communities, a national nonprofit organization that supports individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is pleased to mark its 115th anniversary during a celebration of Founder’s Day on Wednesday, April 17, at Bethesda’s corporate headquarters in Watertown, Wis. Employees and people supported by Bethesda are invited to attend the celebration and contribute their favorite memories as well as their hopes for the future of Bethesda.
Founded in 1904, Bethesda first opened its doors to five people in Watertown. The school focused on Christ-centered training and Lutheran education while providing people with a loving, supportive home. During the decades that followed, Bethesda expanded its services across the United States. In addition to Wisconsin, services were now offered in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Texas. Today, Bethesda aspires to be the leading national provider of support programs and resources for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Currently, Bethesda provides services to more than 1,800 people with disabilities and their families at 300 program locations in 13 states across the country.
“During Bethesda’s early period, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities were often viewed as being unwanted, unhealthy or defective,” said Mike Thirtle, Ph.D., president and CEO of Bethesda. “At best, teachers, doctors, medical specialists, employers, pastors, even parents, did the best they could, but often didn’t know how to provide the kinds of services and assistance that people with disabilities needed to develop to their full potential.”
Much has changed since Bethesda’s humble beginnings. Bethesda provides every person supported with an opportunity to turn a house into a home by offering community-based homes, host homes and family caregiver programs. Additionally, Bethesda has made a greater commitment to serve people with disabilities within their own community, which facilitate opportunities to actively engage with organizations and businesses, helping people with disabilities gain skills needed for employment and to fulfill life experiences. Bethesda also supports the dream of receiving a college education with Bethesda College of Applied Learning and actively partners with congregations across the country to promote the importance of spiritual support for people with developmental disabilities.
“Every year, we gather to pay tribute to the founders of Bethesda who described what they were doing as ‘mission work and service of love,’” added Thirtle. “I’m very proud this has been the cornerstone of this organization for 115 years and will continue to be its cornerstone forever.”
Headquartered in Watertown, Wis., Bethesda is a national organization providing homes and other services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and is celebrating its 115th anniversary in 2019. Bethesda strives to become a central point of connection that unites people who have disabilities with communities and provides essential resources to help them live their lives to the fullest. The organization offers more than 300 programs across the country, and is guided by Christian faith. For more information, go to https://www.bethesdalc.org, like our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.
Bethesda Lutheran Communities Timeline
40 acres of land along the Rock River in Watertown, Wis., was donated to Bethesda.
Bethesda was founded as The Society for the Training and Care of the Feebleminded and Epileptic by concerned Lutherans, and opened its doors to five people. The school focused on Christ-centered training and Lutheran education while providing people with a loving, supportive home.
Bethesda entered a period of expansion, which began with renovations to campus buildings.
The first Bethesda Thrift Store opened in Watertown.
Bethesda began expanding its services across the United States. In addition to Wisconsin, services were now offered in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Texas.
Bethesda is positioned to succeed and continue to help people with intellectual and developmental disabilities live the lives they want – as it has been done for more than a century.