More than 40 years ago, I remember sitting in the first pew at church waiting for a special meeting to begin. Being in my late twenties, I had my own business that kept me busy six days a week, and Sunday was a day of rest. This Sunday was special however. My dad, Pastor Jim, was going to unveil plans for a community where Residents could remain independent longer because of extra services provided by dedicated Team Members right on campus. I had an inkling of what was about to happen, but I truly was not prepared for what was to come. The church was full as the meeting started and you could tell the parishioners were wondering what Pastor Jim was up to. In 11 short years, St. Mark Lutheran Church had already grown to be the largest LCA congregation in the south, built a Christian School on the church site, and sponsored a Missionary Church in Haiti.
As usual, Pastor Jim was well prepared, and the words my Dad spoke that day choked me up. He said, “Imagine a community where people are living in harmony, sharing stories and life experiences, where you are never alone, and the employees can’t do enough for you. A community where you feel more independent as you grow older, because of the extra things employees do for you, the safe and secure environment, and camaraderie amongst the Residents. You continue to challenge your body, mind, and spirit each day. You’re not getting older, you’re getting stronger. You’ve worked hard all your life; you deserve to feel special in these special years.”
There was a break in my Dad’s presentation, and I really didn’t know what was going to happen next. I couldn’t believe it myself but I jumped up with my hand in the air and said, “I want to work there.” There was a silence. I am guessing everyone thought it was planned, but by the look on my Dad’s face, everyone definitely realized it wasn’t. He was speechless, but I kept on talking and imagining this community full of people like my own beloved grandparents, getting along, sharing memories, and maturing in their years together. I was too young to live there, but who wouldn’t want to work there and be part of such a place?
Well, there were a few questions and concerns, but the motion passed to move forward with this community called St. Mark Village. Property was purchased, a community was designed, and sales began. (No, I didn’t start working there, that came 12 years later.)
In 1988, St. Mark Village completed the Assisted Living Center and the Michael Bilirakis Memory Care, which was dedicated by President Bush in the spring of 1989. St. Mark Village expanded again in 1990, with the purchase of Highland Lakes Assisted Living. It was around this time that I joined the Management Team at the Village as the Director of Sales and Marketing. I loved my job as I was able to help so many experience the special, joyful, life affirming place my Dad described those many years ago. I saw his dream come to life and his vision become a reality. However, not until January 2013, when I was asked to step up to the position of CEO, did I fully understand the bond between the Residents and Team Members that exists here at St. Mark Village. We are one family, loving and caring for each other, each day. The Residents are a blessing to the Team Members, and the Team Members are a blessing to the Residents. Happy 39th Anniversary to all present and future members of the St. Mark Village Family.