As we celebrate Veterans Day today, we're commemorating another special observance: the 25-year work anniversary of our president and chief executive officer, Rob Kretzinger.
Kretzinger arrived at WesleyLife -- then Wesley Retirement Services -- in 1996 as chief operating officer. Seven years later, he was named president and CEO -- one of the youngest at that time in the aging-services landscape.
Since then, he's led WesleyLife's evolution to a comprehensive health and well-being organization that serves more than 10,000 residents and clients in 12 Communities for Healthy Living and a breadth of home- and community-based services. And the organization remains in growth mode, with a community having recently opened in the Quad Cities, another scheduled for opening next year (just in time for WesleyLife's 75th anniversary!), and several projects under way, including a $25 million redevelopment of the organization's flagship community, Wesley Acres in Des Moines.
His personal life has seen big changes as well in the last two-and-a-half decades, of course; he and his wife, Glenda, raised three children. One of their daughters was a newborn when the family first arrived in Des Moines; the family stayed in an apartment in the Chamberlain Mansion at Wesley Acres while they searched for a house, and the baby slept in a dresser drawer. Now, a second grandchild is on the way.
"I can't imagine a bigger blessing than to have been here 25 years, serving with our board of directors and 1,800 team members to create experiences for, in some cases, generations of families," Kretzinger said. "What they say about the passage of time is true; 25 years has gone by in the blink of an eye.
"Every year, I understand to a greater degree what our work here is truly about, and never more so than in the last 20 months or so, as our industry has faced some of its greatest challenges. Daily, I'm reminded of the power of our people -- those we serve and those who do the serving.
"Our buildings -- our campuses -- are wonderful, and we are blessed to have them. But more than physical buildings, our strength is in connections that form, and how we're all made better by them. I am just so fortunate to have been a part of all this, and to be a part of the really exciting things to come."
Kretzinger's anniversary was marked at the organization's headquarters in Johnston with lunch provided by WesleyLife board president Chad Rasmussen, a special cake, a sign featuring highlights of Kretzinger's tenure -- and a singing telegram! In addition, team members shared thoughts about what Kretzinger's leadership has meant to them. Please take a moment to read some of those below!
On behalf of everyone at WesleyLife: Congratulations, Rob. Thank you, and God bless you. Happy 25 years, and best wishes for many more!
Janet Simpson, Vice President of Network Operations: "Rob's heart and soul have been put into making WesleyLife great, and that's part of the reason why I came here 18 years ago, and why I continue to stay. His vision for where the organization is going and all the passion he uses to inspire us to be better every day are, in turn, what inspire me to keep the candle burning and do everything I can to help move us forward."
Chris Marshall, Executive Director, Halcyon House: "Twenty-five years with one employer is quite an accomplishment for anyone, let alone as the CEO of a multi-site, multi-level, flourishing industry leader such as WesleyLife. Rob has so much to be proud of. I have learned a lot from him, too -- to make myself look at the big picture as much as the day-to-day details; to constantly strive for growth and improvement; to question what we are doing (or not doing) so we don’t become complacent; and to choose and nurture our leadership team so that we build a culture that will last way beyond my tenure here, to name just a few. As I look back through the past 15½ years that I have been with WesleyLife, the changes and expansions are nearly unbelievable both here in Washington and as a whole within the organization."
Kristy VanDerWiel, Vice President of People and Culture: "Research says that people stay at or leave an organization because of their leader, and what I have appreciated about working with Rob is that even during those times when difficult decisions must be made and when tough conversations have to happen, his priority is first the people we serve, and also first, the team members who serve WesleyLife. The passion Rob has for the work we do and his commitment to service are reasons why I stay. I'm grateful to him for modeling the way for all of us."
Karie Kesterson-Gibson, Clinical Quality Specialist: "One of my memories personally of Rob is when he attended my surprise virtual baby shower for my twin girls! I thought it was pretty special that he took the time to attend. I also appreciate that Rob from time to time will check in with me to just make sure I am doing OK, given all the clinical challenges the industry has faced. To me, that shows he is compassionate and kind, and that he truly cares about us. And I'll never forget the time during the earlier part of the pandemic that Rob went out to all our communities to personally thank the directors of nursing for their hard work and their commitment to our residents. I was part of that, and I was really moved that Rob was genuinely getting tearful as he thanked them. In working with Rob for the last 10 years, I can say he challenges us, and his motivation is always for us to be our best as an organization."
Shannon Draayer, Director of Health and Well-Being: "Rob has cast an inspiring vision for our organization and our entire industry, with a strong focus on health and well-being. I’m proud to be a part of bringing that vision to life!"
Lisa Ryan, Director of Communications: "Rob expects excellence in his own performance and encourages everyone to be their best -- and you might grumble when he wants you to go that extra mile, but his instincts are spot-on and the result is always so much better. He's like the teacher you'll always remember -- the one who pushed you to reach your potential. He's also an incredibly kind and caring person -- the first one who will come over and pray with you when someone in your family is sick. That's something I had never experienced in a CEO and something that will always mean the world to me."
Ward Phillips, Senior Director of Sales: "Congratulations to Rob on 25 years of outstanding leadership, vision and making the world a better place for older adults across the state of Iowa (and now beyond!). I was in a focus group on Monday. No one knew that I was a part of WesleyLife. When asked what everyone thought of WesleyLife -- so, a general perception -- here was their reaction: 'Progressive. WesleyLife really understands aging and what people need.' I was thinking: I wish Rob could hear those comments. He’d be pretty darn proud … as he should be!"