Stepping up to construct hope for the region’s health

Solvay Hospice House has a special place in the heart of Shane Johnson. His company, Johnson Wilson Constructors, constructed the Duluth healthcare facility in 2007 following a Miller-Dwan Foundation campaign to create the region’s first residential hospice house. That’s when the Foundation, which owns and maintains Solvay, got on Shane’s radar as a charity worth paying closer attention to.

“Working on the Solvay project, I started to fully realize where the Foundation began, where they’d come to, and the scope of what they do. It’s pretty impressive,” Johnson says. “And the way they’ve maintained Solvay is impressive. It still looks brand new.”

Growing up in the community, Shane knew of the Dwan legacy by virtue of his friendship with Claire Dwan and her family. Claire is the daughter of Mary Dwan, a major benefactor whose family’s generosity seeded the creation of the Miller-Dwan Foundation in 1973.

Like his profession, Shane’s appreciation for the Miller-Dwan Foundation just kept building in the past decade. Between working on Solvay and later, the Amberwing – Center for Youth & Family Well-Being project, he got to know past Foundation President Pat Burns. She asked him to consider joining the board of directors. Now, almost ten years later, his term of service on the board is coming to an end.

“I was really enamored by the people involved with the Foundation and proud to be invited to be part of it. Sadly, my term is almost up,” he says. “I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for the Foundation. I’ll probably find a way to continue being involved somehow.”

Giving time and resources

It might involve more building. In the years he joined the board, Shane’s company has been donating resources to build playhouses and other structures that have been auctioned at ARTcetera, the Miller-Dwan Foundation’s annual gala event that raises crucial funds for health initiatives in our region. Each of the custom-designed and locally crafted playhouses had a theme, and sold for $15,000–$25,000, raising well over $200,000 in charity support through the years for Foundation initiatives like Solvay, Amberwing, rehabilitation and more.

“It’s a community effort. There’s been involvement from the labor unions, designers, local contractors for things like electrical and roofing, and donations of supplies. It’s about everybody coming together to work on these little houses,” Shane says. “The playhouses have been a sweet little auction item. And they’re not so little: they’re amazingly done.”

His favorite was probably the one he purchased for his family. That technology-themed cottage with flatscreen TV and bunk beds has served as a winter warming house for changing into hockey skates beside the family ice rink. This summer, it’s even served as a guest house for his friend’s son. “He thought it was the coolest thing.”

The 2020 project: a stylish sauna

This year, rather than a playhouse, the ARTcetera auction will feature a custom-built sauna based on a design by John Ivey Thomas, the architect who designed Solvay and Amberwing. Johnson Wilson took the lead on building the sauna, along with support from Minardi Lumber, Duluth Stove, Benson Electric and Kitchee Gammi Design Co.

ARTcetera is usually an event that draws hundreds for dinner, entertainment, inspiring stories—and an extensive variety of silent and live auction items.

But this year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic preventing the usual in-person socialization, a “CyberCetera” is replacing it. The one-hour virtual event will still feature signature items and experiences that are up for auction. Shane just hesitates to call the sauna this year’s main attraction.

“There are always so many great things up for auction,” he says. “Everyone on the board gets really involved in ARTcetera. From the businesses that support the event to those who bid and buy, it’s a win-win. It’s a great way to raise money.”

This year, ARTcetera supports efforts to expand Amberwing programs to make sure that kids get the mental health and substance abuse care they need.

Community Impact

It’s that kind of deeper and highly impactful care that’s making a difference in our region. And the Foundation’s role in that is significant, Shane says.

“This is a community foundation. They do so many ‘extra things’ that our greater community needs. I’ve interviewed groups seeking funding, and there are things the Foundation supports that would never have happened otherwise. These can be the small things that make the biggest difference in somebody’s healthcare. It’s just amazing.”

He credits the passion and commitment of Foundation staff and volunteers, and commitment of caregivers, nurses, doctors and support staff who donate to causes that benefit the patients and families they see every day.

“It’s an entity that’s going to help our community from now to eternity. It’s just an amazing place. We’re all fortunate to have them.”

When Shane’s term as a board member comes to a close next year, he knows there will be one cause, among the many, that hooked his interest in the Foundation’s work from the beginning.

“Solvay has a special place in my heart because so many people have lived the last moments of their lives there,” he says, recalling a friend whose father was among the first people to be cared for there. “She couldn’t believe the amazing level of care they provided. It really hit home for me: those are the stories that stay with you. And you know you’re part of something that’s making a difference for so many people—for all generations. You couldn’t ask for something better to support than that.”

See the sauna and other auction items up for bid at ARTcetera 2020. Learn more and RSVP for the one-hour virtual gathering and auction in support of Amberwing mental health and substance use care for youth.

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