By Doug Fresh, CEO
It must have been 40 years ago now, I remember sitting in the first pew at church waiting for this special meeting to start. Being in my late twenties, I had my own business that kept me busy ten hours a day, 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 its Residents could remain independent longer because of the extra services and care available by dedicated staff right on campus. I had an inkling of what was about to happen, but no way was I prepared for what was to come.
As the meeting started with a full church, you could tell the parishioners were wondering what was Pastor Jim up to next. In 11 short years, St. Mark Lutheran Church had already grown to be the largest LCA congregation south of the Mason Dixon line, built a Christian school on the church site, and sponsored a Missionary Church in Haiti. Pastor Jim made the appropriate introductions of the folks on stage. A developer, a banker, an architect, a builder, and even a marketer, they were all there. As usual, he was well prepared. For 1977 the slide show was well done, but it was the words my Dad spoke that got me choked up. He said, “Imagine a community where people are living in harmony, sharing stories and life experiences, where you are never alone, where the employees can’t do enough for you. A community where you feel more independent as you are getting older, because of the extra things employees do for you, the safe and secure environment, the camaraderie amongst 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 couldn’t guess what was coming next. A short pause and he asked for questions, concerns, comments. I couldn’t believe myself; I just 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 knew it wasn’t. He was speechless. Being my Dad’s son, I just kept talking, explaining what I meant. Who wouldn’t want to work here? A community of my Grandparents getting along, sharing memories, maturing in their years together; I was too young to live there, but who wouldn’t want to work there and be a part of such a place?
Well, there were more questions and a few concerns, but the motion passed to move forward with this community called St. Mark Village. Property was purchased, a community designed, and sales began. (No, I didn’t start working there, that came 12 years later.) In 1980, the community was ready for occupancy on July 1st with 321 independent apartments and a 60 bed nursing home. Over the next 8 years the community prospered.
What developed throughout the country in the late 1980’s was a care level called Assisted Living and another special one for Alzheimer’s Care. By 1988, St. Mark Village completed their 34 apartment Assisted Living Center and a 51 bed Michael Bilirakis Alzheimer’s Center with a dedication by President Bush April 27th 1989.
St. Mark Village expanded again in 1990, with the purchase of 66 Assisted Living apartments in Highland Lakes. It was around this time that I joined the management staff of St. Mark Village as the Director of Sales and Marketing. In my job position from December 1989 to January 2013, I was able to be influential in many Resident’s lives that came to live at St. Mark Village. I saw my Dad’s dream come alive and become a reality. What I had said 12 years earlier, when I jumped out of the pew was so correct – I want to work there.
However, not until January 2013, when I was asked to step up to the position of CEO, did I fully understand the family of Residents and staff 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 staff, and the staff are a blessing to the Residents. May we continue to grow and nurture each other as we bless all those we come in contact with. Happy 37th Anniversary to all the family members and future family members of St. Mark Village.
– Doug Fresh, CEO