Local News

February 11, 2011

Former Samaritan Inn resident speaks

OSKALOOSA — Up until a week ago, Dennis Ireland called the Samaritan Inn in Oskaloosa home.

Today, he lives in a house in Oskaloosa, thanks to the charitable efforts of many people in town.

Ireland said he found out that the Samaritan Inn was going to close Monday, Jan. 31. He and 19 other residents were all moved out and into new places of residence by that next Friday, Feb. 4.

On Tuesday and Wednesday of that week, Oskaloosa was buried under 10 inches of snow, so Ireland and the other Inn residents weren’t able to make much progress on moving out, he said. By late Thursday, Ireland found a new place to live in Oskaloosa thanks to the efforts of his caregiver, Terry Acord and Bruce McLellan and wife Denise of Lifehouse Church, Ireland’s daughter and members of the Mahaska Homeless Coalition. He added, Love INC also played a part in securing new housing for him.

“It was great because we never realized the help we could get,” said Ireland. “Love INC and the hopelessness coalition helped us tremendously.”

Ireland said he believes Joyce Wheeler opened The Samaritan Inn with good intentions, but that it turned into a “cash cow” for her, adding that he was not happy with the way the facility was operated.

Ireland, who receives Social Security benefits, said he used that income to pay then Samaritan Inn owner Wheeler $200 a month in rent.

“I told her that’s all I could afford,” said Ireland. “That’s how it was with me. I don’t know about anybody else.”

In a Herald interview Monday, Wheeler said she did not profit from operating The Samaritan Inn.

“Did I make any money doing it? No,” said Wheeler Monday of this week. “I’ve gone to great personal expense to keep it open.”

Ireland, 69, said he was born on a farm a mile and a half north of Cedar, but had lived in Arizona since 1985 before coming to Oskaloosa in 2009.

While in Arizona, Ireland said he contracted a disease known as Coccidioidomycosis or “valley fever.”

“It just weakens you, is what it does,” said Ireland of his symptoms.

At the urging of his doctor, Ireland came to Oskaloosa where his son and daughter live in order to get out of the arid climate where valley fever is most prominent.

Ireland arrived in Oskaloosa in September of 2009, at which point he was placed in a local hospital for 10 days. When he was released from the hospital, his daughter, Trisha, had arranged for him to reside at the Samaritan Inn by October of that year.

Ireland graduated from Cedar High School in 1960 before attending William Penn College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in social science in 1964.

He went on to teach and coach girls basketball at Tri-County High School for five years.

“I was the world’s worst girl’s basketball coach,” joked Ireland.

After that, Ireland worked in Sebula for six years as a teacher/principal before changing careers to work in retail in Davenport for a couple of years.

Ireland would go on to earn a masters degree in secondary school administration from what was then known as Northeast Missouri State University in Kirksville, Mo. He would go on to spend seven years as principal of WJB Schools in Jamaica, Iowa, which is 10 miles west of Perry.

By 1985, following a divorce, the ailing health of his parents drew Ireland to Arizona. While in Arizona for 24 years, Ireland managed retail businesses before briefly retiring and returning to work part time for a few years.

While living at the Samaritan Inn, Ireland said he developed a lot of friendships with other residents. He said that the residents of the Samaritan Inn where basically no different than anyone else, but that some had problems with alcohol or drug abuse, which they sought rehabilitation help for.

“Some of the people I met there will be my friends forever,” said Ireland.


Herald City Editor Andy Goodell can be reached at news2@oskyherald.com

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