Seniors Hospitality Center in crisis, community asked to rally

By Mike Weland

Misha DavisWhen Marciavee Cossette found the doors of the Bonners Ferry Seniors Hospitality Center closed last Friday and she learned that the closure could be long term, tears welled up in her eyes.

“Who will water my plants?” she asked. Fortunately, the doors are still open, though it’s not a place at the moment for our community’s wise and wizened to linger, swap stories, enjoy a fine lunch, play games and enjoy good company.

“The door is open for those in need,” said interim CEO Misha Davis. “We’re still doing food boxes and home deliveries. There’s no bingo, no lingering.”

No estimate on when or even if things will return to normal, only Davis’s promise that she’ll do her best.

After answering a job posting, Davis was hired by the Senior Center board as executive director February 21, with an April 1 start date, following the resignation of former director Brooke Blagrove, who also serves as Boundary County Veteran’s Service Officer, allegedly hired at least partially on the recommendation of Senior Center board president Ben Apo, who also served as commander of the local VFW, the organization that owns the building at 6635 Lincoln Street, leasing a portion of it to the senior center. Blagrove’s resignation was to take effect March 29.

Davis volunteered to train for her new position beginning February 26. She grew concerned from the outset, she said, as she was offered no guidance, her most basic questions on policy and procedure ignored, her requests to see records and accounts refused. She went through boxes of records by the shredder and became more alarmed.

She found that monies and records of VFW and Senior Center, two separate entities only joined by the lease and the fact they shared a building, were intermixed … records of cash donations with no indication of who the funds were given to.

“There should be no crossover between the VFW, the VSO and the Senior Center,” Misha said, “but it appears the work of the VSO was being done on Senior Center computers, VSO documents interspersed with Senior Center,, everything has been thrown in boxes, strung about, tagged as trash. The failure of the prior administration to implement proper systems is the reason its former CPA fired Seniors Hospitality Center as a client!”

On January 26, Apo received a scathing memorandum for record from American Legion Post 55 Commander Dave Schuman reference conflict of interest and financial discrepancies. Pointing out that he was a certified Idaho peace officer, Schuman wrote that standard practice in such a situation was to write an affidavit and forward it to the prosecutor.

“Steps I took have been out of respect for the organizations and people involved,” he writes. “My legal counsel strongly recommends that I request a financial investigation into misconduct, stemming from your conflict of interest that you created by being the VFW Commander and also being in a supervisory capacity with the senior center … I strongly suggest you relook having the Senior Vice Commander of the VFW being the same person that manages the Senior center. That again is setting her up for failure, it is another incident of conflict of interest. Compounded with the fact that she is the County Veteran Service Officer conflicts with a standard that she has voiced to not appear impartial between the three service organizations. Compounded with the fact that you hold a supervisory role over her at the Senior center it compromises her in multiple ways.”

Schuman acknowledges Apo’s stated intent of resigning as VFW 3622 Commander, and while minutes show no action by the board, he resigned from the Seniors Center board around the same time. And yet according to Davis, he came in three times during her training, by turn threatening and cajoling.

In March, under the guise of volunteering to try out for the vacant bookkeeper position, Davis brought in two acquaintances, qualified in forensic review. Over two weeks, Davis said, they confirmed her suspicions, finding considerable evidence of impropriety and potential criminality, which Davis made known to the board. She turned down the executive directorship, offering instead to continue in a volunteer capacity as interim CEO.

“An interim CEO,” she writes in a public presentation on the straits facing the Seniors Hospitality Center to be held 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, at the Seniors Hospitality Center, “is a person appointed by a company’s Board of Directors to assume the role of the Chief Executive Officer during a time of transition or as a result of the sudden departure of the company’s previous Executive Director.”

On March 26, the board took action, as recounted in a press release issued on Friday.

“After careful consideration, the Board of Directors has made the decision to terminate Brooke Blagrove from her role as Executive Director of the Seniors Hospitality Center. This decision comes as part of the organization’s ongoing commitment to ensuring effective leadership and the fulfillment of its mission to provide exceptional care and support to seniors in our community.

“In light of this change, the Board of Directors has appointed Misha Davis as the Interim Chief Executive Officer. Misha Davis brings with her a wealth of experience as a former Chief of Staff to top-rated FORBS and Inc. 5000 CEOs, most notably the Hunt Family, and the Board is confident in her ability to lead the Seniors Hospitality Center during this transitional period.

“‘We wish Brooke Blagrove the best in her future endeavors,’ said Art Morin, acting chairman of the board of directors. ‘We are excited to welcome Misha Davis to lead our organization and look forward to working together to continue providing high-quality care and services to the seniors of Bonners Ferry.’

“Seniors Hospitality Center remains committed to its mission of enriching the lives of seniors and their families through compassionate care, innovative programs, and community engagement. The Board of Directors and staff are dedicated to ensuring a smooth transition and maintaining the organization’s high standards of excellence.'”

According to Davis, there are no funds left, no budget. Insurance has lapsed. There are improprieties in occupancy of the federally subsidized senior apartments managed by the Seniors Hospitality Center, to include an allegedly unqualified employee receiving a free apartment while around 50 qualified applicants wait.

As interim CEO, she said, she will do what’s necessary to get the Seniors Hospitality Center back on stable footing as a volunteer.

“There’s nothing in it for me but to make sure the organization survives and that our community’s seniors are served,” she said. “If, when it’s done, the board wants to bring me in as executive director, I’d be honored.”

Since news broke, she has, she said, been maligned, even threatened. Blamed for woes years in the making. Loud calls have been made for her job, if not her head.

Having grown up in Bonners Ferry, Misha said, she came to appreciate those at the “bookends” of life, our children and our elderly, She would have welcomed the opportunity to serve as executive director, to have carried on the long legacy and tradition of the Bonners Ferry Seniors Hospitality Center, its love for and commitment to its elders. It was heartbreaking, she said, to learn that the edifice was on the verge of collapse.

And she says it’s understandable to see the person holding the last strut that keeps the quivering structure at the very edge of balance be the one blamed even it teeters toward collapse. But a far more effective reaction would be to grab shovels and more struts and pitch in to hold the structure and so to stave off collapse.

“I need professionals within our community to help,” she said. “Not to help me, but to help the seniors who depend on this senior center.”

Lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers, IT techs, security specialists, insurance agents. People willing to donate their time and expertise.

The Bonners Ferry Seniors Hospitality Center has an amazing board; Art Morin, Tom Allinger, Grace Leidt, Bob Saboe, Mark Hatten and Winnie Bredy. Most are Seniors Hospitality Center stalwarts who would prefer enjoying the company and comfort of friends than to bicker. They hear “grandma!” and turn to greet a 70-year-old grandchild. Rich in experience and expertise, they have given their community far more than their last full measure and deserve a moment’s leisure… but they never seem able to quit giving.

With the rancor raised in the week since the Seniors Hospitality Center went on cautious footing last Wednesday, a few board members, knowing that at present the center needs younger and more energetic advocates, have offered to step aside should a more qualified candidate step forward … but only one has resigned.

Despite the threats, the rancor and the uproar, they stand fast, knowing that without a quorum, the hope of saving this community’s Seniors Hospitality Center would be lost.

“I stand behind the senior center 100-percent,” said board member Grace Leidt. “I don’t know if I’m allowed to say much, so let’s just let it rest right there … I’m second generation Bonners Ferry Seniors Hospitality Center and my kids are old enough to be third, but they still think they’re too young! I stand behind the Senior Center 1,000-percent! The center is a second home to a lot of us.”

Grace is a beautiful and energetic 91 years old.

Bob Saboe, who began teaching high school physics students the counterintuitive wonders of E=MC2 during Albert Einstein’s lifetime, says he has confidence in Misha’s skills, education and experience. She might ruffle feathers, but sometimes it takes ruffled feathers to draw necessary and proper attention to the task at hand.

And Mr. Saboe, who also serves as Seniors Center Chaplain and musical entertainer extraordinaire, doesn’t just talk. He is there to answer every call for spiritual help to lift the soul, he’s there playing music to stimulate the heart and soul of all who can hear.

Davis and the board encourage all who are concerned and all who would help to attend the 6 p.m. public meeting Tuesday, April 9, at the Seniors Hospitality Center, 6635 Lincoln Street, Bonners Ferry. To learn more, email or call (208) 267-5553.