Born in Norka, Russia, in 1890, Horst begins his story with reminiscences of his early life in the village, one of the largest colonies in the Volga region with a population of about 3000. Horst remembered a "wonderful place" with many small businesses, a flour mill, blacksmith shop, tannery and three churches. "Everybody had to go to church." Those who missed services three weekends in a row would have to appear in front of the mayor with an explanation. Many young men might have chaffed at this expectation, but Horst seems to have embraced it.
Although the family enjoyed their life in Russia, there was increasing pressure from the Russian government to assimilate with the biggest fear being the threat of conscription, and a six-year term in the Russian army. When the family received glowing letters of life in Colorado from an uncle they took the opportunity to emigrate, arriving in Denver in June, 1902.
Young Horst became active in the First German Congregational Church, leading Sunday School classes, a community band and singing in the choir. While singing in the choir, Horst noticed the red-headed Katie Schlitt and they were married in 1916. Both were only 18.
With Horst working for the Burlington Railroad and Katie taking care of the couple's six children, life was good for the family. But when the Great Depression began in 1929, the Burlington cut Horst's hours to two days a week and all members of the family took on whatever odd jobs they could find. In 1931, even though his own family was struggling, Horst served on a relief committee in Denver, an experience that affected him profoundly.
Horst and a Mr. Green found an old couple living in a tin shack between the Burlington tracks and the Platte River, cold, wet and hungry. The men rushed to their own homes and brought back food, fuel and coats to the elderly couple and Horst made a promise that night that he would labor nearly 30 years to fulfill. "God, if you ever give me a few dollars, I will try to do something for the aged."
The economy gradually improved and, in 1934, the Horst family built a machine shop, Farmers Tool & Supply Corporation; in 1937, the family also acquired farmland from a bank auction. As the United States prepared for war, Farmers Tool & Supply began handling government contracts, which provided steady earnings and reason to expand.
In 1941, Horst began the fulfillment of his promise to provide for the elderly, incorporating his farm as Sunny Acres Villa and gradually building a few cottages. Horst approach church members and fellow business owners for financing his vision, but found very little support, until a Dr. Kenneth P. Berg from Lee's Summit, Missouri, provided the necessary financial and organizational support.
Today, the Villas at Sunny Acres is one of four Christian living facilities in the metropolitan area and a testament to the faith and perseverance of John C. Horst and his commitment to leading a Godly life.
First German Congregational Church Community Band, with John Horst kneeling left.Photo used with written permission from Heritage Community Bible Church
The board of the Villas at Sunny Acres, John C. Horst third from right, seated.Photo used with written permission from Janet Wagner