From its origins as a funeral home to a retail store to a Grange Hall and lunch meeting location for the local Rotary Club, the building that houses the Friendship Community Center in Suttons Bay has a varied and storied history. Since 1988 it has served as a community gathering place and as Leelanau County’s first senior citizen center.
The building, constructed in 1853, originally had three stories. The first story was used as the Martinson-Kroupa Funeral Home. The upper levels served as living space for the family. Later the building was used as a furniture store until 1936. The building was then purchased by the Grange, a fraternal organization dedicated to advocacy for American agriculture. From 1946 until 1986 the building functioned as the Grange’s chapter office and meeting center.
In addition to being a meeting place for the Grange, from 1948 until 1986 it was also the weekly meeting place of the Rotary Club of Suttons Bay with the ladies of the Grange cooking and serving lunches to club members.
Leelanau County’s First Senior Center is Launched
When the Rotary moved their meetings to a local restaurant in 1986 the building stood empty for several years before a coalition of local women, searching for their own lunch meeting site, organized and raised funds through a loan and their own personal financial commitments to purchase the hall in 1988. Soon the Suttons-Bay Bingham Senior Citizens, Inc. Friendship Center was open for business, serving a population of 2,600 seniors from throughout the county.
Armed with determination and resolve, the group received grants for renovations to bring the building up to code and transformed the building in a three state renovation program. Using grants from the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging and a loan from Old Kent Bank they purchased the building for $35,000 and began transitioning the Grange Hall into a meeting place for area residents.
Renovations included demolishing a replacing the west wing of the building, which had rotted and had no foundation. Today the new wing houses the office of the organization’s executive director as well as restrooms and the barrier-free entrance.
Meanwhile the building became home to an active core group of senior citizens who hosted luncheons, formed a kitchen band, organized health clinics and provided a venue for educational programs and the performing arts.
The center’s appeal was multi-generational. An after-school program evolved into classes, dances and performing arts activities as well as providing a place for after school drop-ins.
Today the Friendship Community Center is open to residents of all ages with a variety of programs.