WARREN - Don Kacmar didn't grow up with dreams of becoming a senior living administrator, but that's the way it worked out, he said. And becoming the executive director of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Retirement Services was equally serendipitous.
"On a whim, I sent them a resume," he reflected recently. "And here I am."
For 30 years, Kacmar has overseen the growth of the organization from a single facility in Niles to five locations in Mahoning and Trumbull counties and about 500 employees, and now he is working his way to his own retirement. Kacmar will help oversee the transition of Rich Limongi, executive director designee, into his role as executive director before officially retiring at the end of 2014.
Last week, Limongi said that Kacmar's guidance will help the staff to continue even in his absence. Limongi completed his administrator in training program under Kacmar in 1988. He has worked closely with Kacmar in a full-time role since 1991.
"He's more than a boss. He's a mentor," Limongi said. "He challenges people to go above and beyond."
Kacmar could lean on his seniority to get things done, Limongi said, but instead he takes the time to consider all angles and input from the people around him.
"A good leader is also a good listener," he said.
He said it was Kacmar's vision and ability to foresee the needs of the future that made Shepherd of the Valley successful for three decades. But mostly, Limongi said Kacmar and the rest of the staff understand one major principle of caring for retired individuals.
"We have to respect their home. This is their place," he said.
Kacmar, a native of Uniontown, Pa., received his Bachelor's degree from Temple University, where he attended on an NCAA football scholarship.
During his tenure as Executive Director, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Retirement Services, Inc. has grown not only in size and number of locations, but also has seen it add a home health agency, At Home With Shepherd, serving more than 750 elderly residents and clients and employing nearly 500 people. He also spearheaded, along with Lutheran Social Services of Northern Ohio and St. Luke Lutheran Community, the Manor at Howland Glen building project which created a 50-unit income-adjusted apartment community In Howland, Ohio, for persons age 62 or older.
During his tenure, Kacmar also served as the Chief Executive Officer of Shepherd's Foundation, a separate not-for-profit corporation charged with raising benevolent funds to support Shepherd of the Valley's residents and programs.
During his decades at Shepherd of the Valley, Kacmar said he has seen the industry evolve along with the needs of the elderly.
"It was more like a rest home. People would come and a lot of people would live a lot of their lives, way back when, in retirement," he said.
Technology has allowed facilities like Shepherd of the Valley to approach senior care with new methods, allowing people to better enjoy their golden years.
Placing a catheter used to be "big deal," he said, for example, but now it's a "non-issue."
"We rehab people and send them home. We've sent hundreds of people home this year already," he said. "That's where everybody wants to be."
He said technological advances will continue to keep the elderly at home for longer periods, creating some challenges for his industry.
"You don't need as many nursing beds today as you did way back when, because they're turning over quicker," he said. "It's a good challenge to have."
Rick Mattix, associate director, has worked with Kacmar for 23 years. During that time he has been especially impressed with Kacmar's ability to work through complicated regulatory issues and provide quality services.
"At one point in time we were the most regulated industry except nuclear energy," he said. "And still (Kacmar) was able to anticipate the community's needs way back when."
Kacmar has inspired his colleagues to carry on his legacy.
"He's laid the foundation for us to enjoy another 40 years," he said.
Kacmar brushed aside the praise of his colleagues, instead preferring to view his career as a decades-long collaboration.
"I was fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time with the right people. We've made things work for 30 years," Kacmar said.