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Mountbatten House History

The following story was written by Denise A. Withers, and her text is reproduced here (from a photocopy of an old, faded, typed copy marked “1984” in ink), to remind us of the history of the home we all support, and to inform new members of Florida D.B.E.
“Not Ourselves, But The Cause”


This story goes back a long way, to 1909, when the D.B.E. started in New York. That was when the Founder, Mrs. J. Elliot Langstaff, decided that the charitable purpose of the Society should be the foundation and maintenance of homes for the elderly. The State of Florida was organized in 1910 but it was not until 1927 that a Home Fund for the southern District began. At that time, only Florida and Alabama were organized, and that first year’s balance in the Home Fund was $1,049.76. Tennessee joined in the next year.
The Southern District Home, Inc. received its charter in 1931 and in 1935 a house was purchased in Orange Park, Jacksonville, Florida. A Board of Trustees was elected and the Advisory Board formed. The Orange Park property required repairs to the tune of $725.00, a great deal of money in those days. Subsequently it was rented, and operated for several years as a Tea Shop, while the small group of members set about raising money. As early as 1938, the Board settled on a name for the Home – Bramfilles House – BR for British, AM for American, and FILLES, the French word for Daughters. A pretty play on words, but, thereafter, the name was seldom pronounced the same way twice!
In 1941 Florida D.B.E.’s started a “Penny a Day” Box campaign, which they carried on for many years. By 1964, just by pennies, that one campaign had raised $6,700.00.
In 1947 the blow fell. The City Commissioners prohibited the use of the Orange Park property as a Retirement Home and the house had to be sold. The house on Barrs Street, which many of us have visited, was bought in 1948. This was an old house – I understand that it belonged to Pat Boone’s grandfather – and, from the beginning, alterations and constant repairs were required. As the years went by, State requirements became ever more stringent and the Maintenance Fund could never quite keep up with the expense.
By 1949 the State of Texas was on the scene and began, in a small way, to support the Home Fund. Renovations were being made to the house to get it ready for residents; and, on May 13th, 1951, the Home was dedicated, three years after it had been purchased! The first residents crossed the threshold on June 4th. Florida members who recall that day tell us there was great excitement when the ribbon was cut, and they, too, went through the throes of growing pains: for example, doing the cleaning and cooking while trying to find the right kind of staff.
The Endowment Fund started with a gift of $250.00. The Board had set the entrance fee at $1,250.00 for lifetime care even unto burial, and this fee was raised to $2,000.00 in 1958. This money together with any bequests or memorials went straight into the Endowment Fund. However, that Fund never became strong enough to support the residents from the investment income, as has been done with the three other D.B.E. Homes. The Mortgage on Bramfilles House was paid off with the proceeds of the sale of the Orange Park property. However, throughout the 1950’s and early 1960’s expensive repairs and modifications continued, and the number of residents, never more than ten, fluctuated gradually downward as the original residents died and fewer were taken in.
Virginia started supporting the Home in 1956, then Louisiana joined in by 1959 and Georgia in 1967. Tennessee dropped out. South Carolina was organized in 1974.
My own personal involvement with the Home began when I served as Southern District Organizer and then Southern District Vice-President in the early and middle 1960’s. Florence Chisholm, then National President of the D.B.E., met me in Jacksonville for a meeting with the Florida members. We had become aware that the Home had difficulties, both financial and administrative (the advancing age of most of the Officers on the Board of Trustees). I remember presiding at that meeting and one of the Florida members called out, “Why don’t you Texas girls take the Home?” Little did we realize then that it would be almost 20 years until we would open the doors of our new Home.
By 1971, when I became National President of the D.B.E., it was obvious that Bramfilles House could no longer be maintained. We asked the Board to phase out the Home, which was done by placing the remaining three residents in Regency House and paying to maintain them. The house was sold and became – you guessed it – a Tea Shop! (They are big on Tea Shops in Jacksonville).
The mechanics of moving the Board of Trustees away from Florida to Texas was a little more delicate – the funds transferred were $107,000.00 and this is the basis of our present Endowment Fund. We are all indebted to Mrs. Ruth Scotton for carrying on as President through some very difficult and trying years.
Many D.B.E. members in the South were unmotivated and disenchanted. They could not see, in their words, “sending their money to a bank account.” And, indeed, the projected cost of the type of Home that was then permitted by the State of Texas seemed impossible to achieve because of the cost involved. But the State changed its rules: and, four years ago, it became possible to have a Personal Care Retirement Home for healthy older people, without the expense and red tape involved with a Nursing Care facility. It seemed worth a try! I remember saying, “It may not work, and if it does not work, I shall be the first to admit it. Meanwhile, I have an obligation to try!”
It is a great pity that, during these years, much money that was raised by Chapters went to so many different charities and so many different causes other than our own Home. But I cannot say enough to thank all of the D.B.E. members in the South for their splendid efforts during the past three years in support of the campaign to raise funds. We have had another campaign, suggested by Mr. Tallboys, which raised some money from the community. However, the greater part of the funds that have been raised have come from you, the D.B.E. members. There has been a miraculous effort on the part of Chapters in the Southern District, in spite of the fact that there has been some quite active and vocal opposition to all of our efforts. Let me take this opportunity to say to those members who have been ‘doom sayers’ and ‘skeptics’ – “Mountbatten House is built; it is a reality! It is up to all of us to give it our total and personal support. If you have not been actively supporting the Home, perhaps it would be a good idea to go back and read our Constitution and By laws and then read again the pledge you made when you joined the Daughters of the British Empire.”
In the fall of 1979, Barbara Higgins and I went shopping for a piece of land. We ended up in Highlands, Texas, for many reasons. It was a small community. It was accessible from Houston. It was close to shops and churches and the library. It was a wooded lot on a residential street with no restrictions against a retirement home. And it was CHEAP
Four years ago Barbara Higgins became President of the Home Board, and she has worked daily since then to accomplish our goal. I have a small inkling of the effort Barbara has put forth, because I have tried to give her what support and encouragement I could, and I have had almost daily contact with her. But no one really knows how many hours she has spent on the many details and problems that have been a part of the planning and building of Mountbatten House. She is not here with us this weekend because we are having our growing pains – and she feels that her first duty is to see that things run smoothly at the Home. I wish she were here so that we could all give her a standing ovation. She deserves one!
Mr. Ernest Sandlin, who has devoted many hours to our project, designed the building and put it out for bids. His small fee does not begin to cover the time he has spent on the job. Our contractor was Mr. M. A. Rife, who made every effort to please us in the final product. Construction began a year ago. We had our problems along the way: Mr. Sandlin was hospitalized twice, once for by pass surgery; the cost of running the sewer line to the property turned out to be a shocker; the plumber forgot to put in a grease trap; the State changed its mind on the kind of hood we had to have over the stove; and the first paint job was a disaster. But Mr. Rife turned up trumps – he got us another painter and the final finishing was done to the satisfaction of us all. We have a beautiful, sturdy building, which has been tastefully decorated by Gail 0’Brien, Elaine Jones and Mavis Olafson Sanders. Peggy Harrison was responsible for equipping the kitchen (with a little assist from the World Trade Club when they went out of business). You all remember the rainy New Year’s Eve when they picked up so many bargains. There have been some minor things about the building that we wish could have been different – chiefly on account of state requirements – but modifications can be made some time in the future. The miracle is that we have, so far, only had to borrow $45,000.00, instead of the $100,000.00 we had anticipated.
To pay the interest on this loan, Mr. Harold Jones, husband of Elaine, came up with the idea of “Angels” and we now have enough “Angels” to cover the cost of the interest. And, may I say, those of us who are “Angels” look forward with pleasure to the time when you girls will pay off that debt!
At the Open House on February 20th, 1983, there were many husbands who commented that we had an awful lot of building for what we had invested.
The name “Mountbatten House” was chosen by popular vote of all S.D H.C. members, and we were delighted to have this name unveiled by H.R.H. The Princess Anne, at a tea last summer. We are most grateful to Mrs. William Woodruff Bland for underwriting the expenses of that tea, as well as for the donation of some beautiful antique furniture and a complete set of Wedgewood dinnerware to the Home.
None of this would have been possible without the help and advice of our Advisory Board. We have acted on their advice every step of the way, and they have taken a keen interest in our progress. In particular, we are blessed to have had a Consul General in Houston such as Mr. Richard Tallboys. He has given us continuing support and encouragement and help to set up the fund raising campaign with messages from Lady Henderson and Mrs. Anne Armstrong. He also met with D.B.E. members throughout his jurisdiction to encourage us in our fund raising and urge us on.
Now we have Mountbatten House to care for. The Board cannot do it alone. We need the support of every member of the D.B.E. and we hope that you will take a personal interest in Your Home! Other District Homes have had their problems when they started out. They are now secure and stable Homes. Let us all work to see that our Home is just as secure. Visit your Home. Work for your Home. Be proud of your Home. You have every right to be proud of your accomplishment, “MOUNTBATTEN HOUSE.”
Denise A. Withers, M.B.E.
Honorary National Vice President,
Daughters of the British Empire
The small mortgage on Mountbatten House was paid off in two years through the donations of the D.B.E. It is now free from debt. All current assets, aside from the building and grounds, are deposited with Merrill Lynch in a C.M.A. account.
For several years all monies were co mingled although we had three separate accounts involved – the original $107,000 00 which was still in trust for our last remaining resident* in Florida – this was referred to as an Endowment Fund and was added to with the proceeds from the Mountbatten Ball, the Building and Capital Replacement Fund, and the General fund from which we paid all expenses. After discussion with the Advisory Board, the term “Endowment Fund” was discarded and it is now referred to as the “Reserve Fund.”
The By laws were revised last year and these three funds were made entirely separate and are kept separate by Merrill Lynch. The interest from the Building Fund and the Reserve Fund will no longer be going into the General Fund as this is prohibited by the new By laws.
When the Home first opened, residents fees were set at $600.00 per month. This was more than adequate for the staff we employed at that time and other expenses. It has always been understood that the cost of the building and the improvements thereto would be subsidised by the D.B.E., so those costs have never been included in the monthly cost per resident. There is a further subsidy to the Home in the form of the many hours of work performed by Board members, particularly the President, in administering the Home.
It has become necessary, as the Home became fully occupied, to employ more staff. That, coupled with the annual cost of living increases due to inflation, has pushed the cost per resident per month from $582.00 in 1984/85 to $709.00 for 1987/88. There was an increase in residents’ fees in June 1988 to $600.00 per month. It has been decided by the Board that there will be no fee increase in June 1989, but that residents will be advised that fees will be reviewed and there will be an increase for the rise in cost of living in January 1990.
At the last meeting of the Finance Committee it was determined that there was a shortfall for the 1987/88 fiscal year of approximately $15,000. However, this amount was received in interest from Merrill Lynch so the shortfall was covered. Now that the three accounts have been made entirely separate, this will no longer be the case.
It should be noted that we are now providing the residents with many more services than we had at first anticipated. For example, all their laundry is done by the staff and a paid occupational therapist visits the Home. The only added expense they have is if they wish to have a private telephone.
There is a great need for additional storage and facilities. For that reason, and for the chance to enlarge our capacity from 16 to 24 residents, we have been increasing the Building Fund.
* No longer living
NOTE: the new wing was opened in August 1992.
Mission Statement
• Mountbatten House is a non-profit charity, providing affordable subsidized living, in a caring secure environment, for needy seniors who can no longer live in their own homes and need assistance with daily living.
• Mountbatten House is a Type A, State Licensed Assisted Living home for men and women, situated in Highlands, Texas, approximately 20 miles east of downtown Houston, under the auspices of the Daughters of the British Empire, providing quality care in a loving, secure, and home-like atmosphere. The Home is comfortably furnished with two attractive living areas, one with TV and VCR, the smaller, more intimate living area is peaceful and used for crafts and games. Three meals are provided daily with weekly laundry and housekeeping. Twenty-four hour staffing is provided, and medication management by a LVN is available as needed
The original home dedicated in 1983 had 16 rooms but as State Licensing Requirements specified the number of staff to be on duty at all times, it was decided to add a further wing, of 8 rooms in the early 90’s, bringing the number of rooms up to 24. Under the State License no further staff was required. By this time, thanks to the generosity of the Southern District members, the loan had been paid off and sufficient funds remained for the construction of the 3rd wing.
Unlike the other Homes, Mountbatten House does not have an endowment fund, but rather a Reserve Fund of those donations accumulated over the years not used for operating expenses. Unfortunately over time with rising costs, staffing, repairs to the structure and safety updates required by the State, we have been unable to add to this account, but rather use if for expenses.
Over the years we have been visited by Prince Charles, February 19th, 1986, and Patricia, Countess Mountbatten of Burma. Countess Mountbatten visited during the construction of the third wing and was most interested in walking the site and perusing the plans. She presented the home with a beautiful portrait which now hangs in the second living area. Vanessa Redgrave also visited the Home. Claire Anstee, the Lady Mayoress of the City of London, visited the home on January 27, 2010, and presented MBH with a beautiful piece of Wedgewood Jasperware depicting the Coat of Arms of the City of London.