By Jack Cumming
The “secret sauce” of constructive aging in America are dedicated people. Senior housing staff give lives of service to those of generations born before their own. Central among these heroes of senior housing are selfless Executive Directors who give of themselves every day. In my travels, I get to meet many exceptional Executive Directors. It’s hard to imagine a more demanding job than that which EDs have accepted as their calling.
EDs are expected to be warm and affirming. At the same time, they have to run a business and meet budget requirements. On top of that, they are held to a compliance standard that can often seem arbitrary and punitive.
The best of them create communities that welcome newcomers, uphold old-timers, and resolve tensions. This is a tribute to the best of the best whom I have met in the course of my travels. It’s personal.
I first met Justin Weber when we served together on a board of directors. Justin today is Executive Director of Casa de Mañana, a month-to-month rental senior housing complex in La Jolla, CA. The residents there love Justin, and that’s important because, with the month-to-month contract, they are free to leave with little notice.
Justin has always been drawn to working with people. He chose advertising as his major at Northern Arizona University. His warm smile and engaging presence lift the spirits of all employees and residents at Casa.
When I last saw Justin, he was in the middle of unraveling one of those unexpected crises that EDs take in stride. A car driving by had crashed through a bunch of barriers and into the building. Fortunately, no one was hit or injured.
You can imagine, though, the role that the ED was expected to assume instantly. Justin handled the situation adroitly, and I doubt that most of the residents in his community were even aware of it. Justin Weber is an inspiration.
I met Linda Givens recently when a group of residents at La Vida Llena in Albuquerque invited me to speak at their community. It’s fair to say that some residents had become critical of management. My purpose was to try to restore the harmony of a collaborative community. That’s easier to do for others than within one’s own community.
The day I arrived, I met Linda. She greeted me warmly and met with me in her office. The demands of her position were evident in stacks of unfinished business that are the secret of this inner sanctum.
Leading a community of over 400 residents and a commensurate number of employees, all wanting your attention, can seem overwhelming. This is not to mention interacting with the central office who are trying to keep the business on track.
Nevertheless, Linda immediately focused her full attention on me and I felt valued. Despite the practicalities of her position, love is the core emotion that radiates from Linda Givens.
Dave Reimer is a man called to help people. Unlike Justin and Linda, Dave Reimer is Executive Director and CEO of a standalone CCRC, Palm Village in Reedley, CA. When I visited Dave in Reedley, I was struck by the 50s style café/bistro that is a captivating feature when one first walks in. A resident of the doo-wop generation so loved Palm Village that she left the funding for the classic diner as a welcoming, gathering place.
Dave Reimer is a man who inspires that kind of loyalty and dedication among those who are fortunate enough to be his residents. He is openhearted and continuously there for the residents and employees he leads. He is also uniquely educated for his position since he has a master’s degree from Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, which combines theological understanding with management of nonprofit and faith-based organizations. Dave brings good cheer and an open mind to everyone he meets.
I got to know Leslie Quintanar while she was Executive Director at The Meridian at Lake San Marcos in California. Leslie works in a for-profit environment. What impressed me the most was how much Leslie loves her work. She brings that spirit of empowerment to everyone who knows her.
We met for lunch and a tour. Every employee and resident we encountered along the way felt comfortable with her. Their loyalty to her and to the community was evident.
Leslie is also a thinker. She publishes regularly in industry publications, including the Senior Housing Forum, and her writing is inspirational and motivational. She is a leader among leaders. Leslie is called to serve others, but she combines that calling with a clear sense of business value. She is a senior living leader who is an inspiration to all who know her.
Marlan Enns was the first Executive Director I met. We were both taking a short cruise to Mexico. It was before I moved into a CCRC. I was alone on the cruise, and he drew me into the group who were traveling with him.
Marlan was the founding Executive Director of Mount Miguel Covenant Village in Spring Valley, CA. That was many years ago. I was surprised to learn that Marlan had interwoven a career in senior housing with a missionary calling in Ecuador.
At age 97, Marlan is now a resident in the community that he led. He continues to be active and found a career in retirement selling real estate. Marlan Enns is a truly remarkable person as is common among those who find their calling in serving the elderly.
I’m pleased to have met and to know these admirable people. What do they have in common? They are all committed to service. They are all easy to know. They all radiate empowerment. They all bring people together in harmony and mutuality. And, they all combine those loving attributes with the practical capacity to lead large numbers of people within the full complexity of senior housing with its mission to nurture the elderly.