Super grandma raises $70,000 in 2 months for outdoor pavilion at senior living facility

Joanne Whicker said nobody told her no.

EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — Shortly after 82-year-old Joanne Whicker moved into the Good Samaritan Society – Heritage Grove senior living center in East Grand Forks, her keen eye noticed something in the front lobby.

"People would stand in the window and wait and wait for somebody to get off a chair so they could go out and grab it," she mentioned.

That's when the caring grandma told home administrators the facility needed a pavilion, something that had been discussed in the past.

"We just haven't had a Joanne pushing the initiative, but I thought it would take well over a year," said executive director Michaun Shetler.

The former business owner immediately took charge, using 50 years of connections to collect money as her daughter drove her around the Grand Cities.


"My body isn't very good, but my mouth is very good," said Whicker.

She collected the entire $70,000 cost of the project in just two months.

"A lot of people had to have their parents move here," she said, referring to why many people had a hard time saying no.

The pavilion was completed as the money came in, so it was done in two months.

"It gave us that energy and zest. We didn't think it could happen and not this quickly," said Shetler.

Whicker's work did not go unrecognized. Fittingly the pavilion was named in her honor. She was also named Polk County's 2021 Senior Citizen of the Year.

"I never expected any of this," she said.

On warm days the pavilion is packed, but on chilly days you will find a lot of empty chairs, leading to one frequent question, will Whicker winterize her pavilion to enjoy all year long?


"I think we can wait until the spring and do it up good," she said.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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