Longtime board member of Senior Tower, Senior Court retires after 46 years

Published 4:33 pm Thursday, January 26, 2023

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Milt Ost, a former pastor at Grace Lutheran Church, recently retired from his service at Senior Tower and Senior Court, two facilities that provide inexpensive housing to older residents in the Albert Lea community. He served for 46 years, the last 20 as chairman. How he became involved was a different story.

“Early in my working life I belonged to two unions, to the Teamsters Union operating heavy equipment building the Garrison Dam in North Dakota, and from there I was actually in school and got a part-time job with Interstate Power in Dubuque driving a truck there, so I belonged to the Electrical Workers Union,” he said.

After arriving in Albert Lea, he started talking with union leaders at Wilson & Co. Packing, which at the time had four labor unions. And when the Trades and Labor Housing Board had a vacancy, he was nominated.

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“As a former union member, the housing association was really started by unions, and at that time the board was principally union members, so it was kind of a different twist to get a preacher on the board,” he said. “They asked me on.”

Staying on for so long wasn’t a planned decision — it just happened.

“They elected me to a three-year position on the board, and when my term was up they asked if I’d serve another three years, and after that another three years,” he said. “That kept going until last year when I finally said, ‘That’s enough, we have a really good board now.”

Ost himself was responsible for the operation of the buildings and entailed hiring in-house managers who took care of daily tasks such as replacing light bulbs and keeping it clean.

What kept him going was seeing everything the board was doing for the elderly residents of Albert Lea.

Through his time serving, Ost has learned how the elderly were in financial trouble.

He also enjoyed working with so many people, residents, managers and boards.

His proudest accomplishment was seeing people who couldn’t otherwise afford a comfortable retirement move into the towers, receive a subsidy and have a place to live for the rest of their lives.

“Our job as directors was just to basically oversee the operation, keep it going, watch over the finances, do all the bookkeeping,” he said. “Finally around 15 years ago we hired a management company out of Owatonna to do the technical work with [Housing and Urban Development] because HUD really is the moving force behind the whole operation through the loans that they provide to our people — subsidies.”

Residents of the tower and court own the buildings and elect who runs the places. Those elected are responsible for how the buildings operate.

“We would meet once a month and go over the finances and whatever needed to be done on the building, hire managers who lived in the buildings and just generally oversee the workings of the two buildings,” he said.

To residents, he wants them to make the best of their years and be patient with each other. To the board, he encouraged them to keep to their work.

Ost plans to stay in the area, and he has a daughter and son-in-law who live in Albert Lea and a grandson in Rochester.

“I’m having a good life in my old age,” he said.

Helen Hamberg, manager of Senior Tower, has worked with Ost for 11 years and would redo that time if she could.

“He’s just an amazing person, always helpful,” she said.

Hamberg noted Ost would listen to both sides of an issue in order to come up with a solution, and said he was very professional.

“He’s great to talk to, he’s always friendly,” she said.

Hamberg has also learned about patience and understanding people from Ost.

“He’s made me step back and really think both sides,” she said. “How would I feel if I was this tenant, or how would I feel …. if I was the other person, how would I feel if I was in their shoes?”

The first building was built in 1971, and after it filled a second was added. Between the two buildings there are 150 apartments, with most of them serving as one bedroom. The board is made up of nine members, with three elected each year for a three-year term.