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Our History

The Early Years - 2006
In 2006, Marcia Townley closed the door of her New York City apartment to spend the Christmas holidays in Minneapolis with family and friends. Little did she know that this trip would open another door and dramatically change life’s direction, for her and for many others.

During her Minneapolis visit, Marcia attended a meeting hosted by her friends Angus and Margaret Wurtele, who were intrigued by a New York Times article about a grass-roots experiment in Boston called Beacon Hill Village. Its members, aged 52 to 98, were seeking an alternative to the traditional continuing care retirement community and had arranged support services needed to stay in their own homes. Intrigued by this notion, the Wurteles wondered if there might be interest in establishing a similar model in Minneapolis. Marcia was also highly intrigued. She soon took a train from New York to Boston to attend a conference, where she learned more about the village model of neighbors helping neighbors to remain in their homes--of which the 400-member Beacon Hill Village was an example. Excited by the village model’s potential, she returned to the Twin Cities and convened a committee to begin researching the idea.

A Partnership Begins
Serendipitously, the committee soon learned that locally-based Ecumen—one of the largest not-for-profit senior housing and services firms in Minnesota—had also been exploring the aging-at-home concept. Ecumen and the committee began a fruitful conversation.

With the Village Movement growing across the country, the Village-to-Village Network was launched to provide support to communities interested in the village model, including the flexibility essential to meet varying community needs.

In 2008, Marcia and the group acted on their vision to build a vital, interconnected neighborhood in the Minneapolis Central Riverfront District that would enhance the aging journey for its residents. After focus groups and a demographic study both yielded positive feedback and encouraging data, the group developed a plan and obtained nonprofit status for an organization to be called Mill City Commons. With seed money funding obtained, additional focus groups and community discussions helped refine the services to be provided. Ecumen signed on as a strategic partner.

Building a Community
Given this exhilarating turn of events, Marcia accelerated her plan to move back to Minnesota. “I didn’t want to grow old in New York City, where there was no one in my building whose door I could knock on for the proverbial cup of sugar. I was looking for community.”

Following her move, she agreed to chair the newly-formed Board of Directors, which also included Tyrone Bujold, Konrad (Kit) Friedemann, Penny Hunt, Sabina Sten, John Crosby, Barbara Goldner, Laurie Jones, Leslie Van Duzer, Ellie Hands, and Kin-Shing Lun. Marcia’s new career as volunteer leader for a startup nonprofit organization had begun. Although she had some prior experience in setting up new programs with various nonprofits and foundations, she had never founded and shaped a totally new organization. Says Marcia, “It took me out of my comfort zone.”

In 2009, an office was opened and staffed. An official launch party at the newly-opened Phoenix condominiums invited neighbors aged 55+ to take a look at all that Mill City Commons had to offer. Sixty members signed up immediately, and the organization grew steadily. By the end of 2013, membership had reached 170.

Fifteen Years Later
Today, membership and member appreciation continue to grow. Mill City Commons continues to actively pursue the resources and opportunities that this vital community requires to continue providing the connection that its diverse members seek.

Mill City Commons is grateful to Marcia Townley and the other early visionaries who worked together to lay the groundwork for our vibrant, constantly-evolving community.

“What started as a vision to create a vibrant village-like community has blossomed into a thriving network of individuals who embrace the importance of staying connected, engaged and enjoying life at every stage.

-Marcia Townley, founder

Mill City Commons
1201 W River Pkwy, Suite #217C
Minneapolis, MN 55454
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