Sally and I had occasion to talk with Don Kacmar recently regarding his long career in the realm of senior retirement. He is the administrator of Shepherd of the Valley retirement communities. The story of my association with Kacmar and Shepherd has three chapters. Chapter 1 was when I was development director for Shepherd in the late 1980s. Working with Mr. Kacmar, I introduced the concept of charitable gift annuities and urged all staff to make contributions to the annual appeal through which in the first year, we were able to buy a $20,000 mini-bus that Kacmar had been hoping for. It was his leadership and knowledge of the organization's needs that made working at Shepherd rewarding.
Chapter 2 was in 2002, when my mother-in-law transferred from a Methodist retirement facility in Asheville, N.C., to Shepherd to be near her daughter. We were advised to retain an ambulance for transporting the 107-year-old Mrs. Folger the 550 miles from Asheville to Niles. But we felt we were capable of making the trip on our own with the help of our nurse daughter-in-law, our son and the use of a spacious van. She felt she would be more comfortable traveling with us than with an ambulance team. The trip over the mountains of West Virginia went much better than anyone expected, but it was a long journey for an old lady. Finally approaching Niles at dusk, my mother-in-law said from the back of the van, "Hurry up, boys, don't let dark catch us!" As it turned out, her time at Shepherd was full of light, hope and happiness. "Dark" did not catch her for another two years.
Chapter 3 began in 2012, a year after I had had a Lacunars stroke, and we moved to a one-floor villa at Howland SOV. This is just one of the five locations of this Lutheran organization that Don Kacmar leads. Others are in Niles, Poland and Boardman. At Home with Shepherd, providing in-home health services, is headquartered in Austintown. Kacmar meets monthly with the staff of each facility to provide leadership to his people. He hosts an annual picnic for staff and he enjoys the annual Shepherd golf tournament.
My recent conversation with Kacmar was stimulated by the announcement that he plans to retire at the end of 2014. He told me something of his life story. His hometown is Uniontown, Pa., also the hometown of Gen. George C. Marshall of World War II fame. Kacmar lettered in football for Uniontown High School and went on to play at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he also lettered, playing guard and tackle on their team. Golfing is another of his athletic abilities, which he still enjoys. His first job out of school was in Uniontown, in a county facility. Then he worked in two different residential retirement communities in northwestern Pennsylvania that were badly in need of repair, which he helped to modernize and expand. From there, he moved to Shepherd in Ohio. Over the years here, Kacmar has built not only buildings but also ideas and services. The organization under his leadership has grown from the original Niles four-story building and 54 apartments to independent living condos and apartments, assisted living apartments, skilled nursing units, rehabilitation services, and other services in four locations, and home health visits not only in the Shepherd communities but wherever they are requested throughout the Valley.
I wondered if Kacmar had words of wisdom for people looking for retirement security and comfort. He said they must do research ahead of time, learn about Medicare and get in to visit all the possible places here in the Valley, because each place has its unique character, conveniences and services. Then they can make an educated decision.
I asked Kacmar, in looking back over his 30 years here at Shepherd, what has been his greatest pleasure? He replied, "Working with so many good people." He spoke of the sense of family among staff, volunteers and residents and of seeing people pulling together to fulfill Shepherd's mission. This chapter of his life will soon end, and we wish him well in the next one, wherever it may be.
Thomas is a Tribune Chronicle columnist.