Meaningful work, rewarding careers and happy residents

Oct 04, 2021
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Larry Diersling and Ethel McCullough

Careers in senior living benefit everyone.

Cleaning commercial kitchen ovens, those iron behemoths that help chefs prepare gourmet meals, is a grimy, dirty job. It can be lonely, too, since the work is done every night after the kitchen closes and there’s no one else around. It’s not the first job you’d think of if you wanted to climb the corporate ladder.

Yet that is exactly how Larry Diersing got his start at Meadowood, a Five Star Senior Living community in Bloomington, Ind., 36 years ago. Starting out in the kitchen his sophomore year of college, Larry moved up to manage food services, run Meadowood’s first IT department, become an administrator, land the executive director’s post, step in as regional director of operations and then return to the top job at Meadowood, where Larry continues to serve as executive director.

“Once I started spending time with other team members and our residents, I realized that older people have lived amazing lives and have amazing stories,” Larry says of his early days at Meadowood. “It’s one of the things I love most about working here.”

He’s a great example not only of the careers in senior living available at Five Star but the longevity of its team members, a dedication that contributes to the consistent high quality of services our residents enjoy.

“Working at Five Star for years brings stability and a sense of regularity to our communities,” Larry notes, adding that he is by no means the only long-timer. Meadowood’s business office manager, Lifestyle 360 director, Housekeeping director, Maintenance Director and marketing director have been on Larry’s team 38, 25, 23, 20 and 15 years, respectively. Kitchen team members have 120-plus Meadowood years combined. “Our residents experience this stability, and they trust us because of it,” Larry says.

When it comes to longevity, Meadowood has a lot of company. Across the country, it’s not uncommon for the most dedicated team members to stay at Five Star and rise through the ranks. Happily, our residents also end up on top. Just ask Sara Shaw and Angie Hornby.

From aide to administrator

SaraSara serves as executive director of The Forum at Brookside in Louisville, KY. She started as a part-time dietary aide at The Forum during college back in 1989. Sara then moved from the kitchen to the medical records department. “When I transferred to medical records, I realized I could make a career in senior living,” Sara says. She did try something else first, however—Sara left Five Star briefly for a clerical job in a credit office. “That lasted three weeks!” Sara recalls. She returned to Five Star and attended local college to earn her healthcare administrator’s license. Sara then served as administrator at The Forum for 10 years. Three years ago, when The Forum’s executive director of 30 years retired, Sara was promoted to the post.

“The overwhelming sense I get working here is a sense of family,” Sara says. “Here we say, ‘Welcome to The Forum Family.’ I want to make this their home, and for a sense of home to exude through everything our team members do. We’re all about relationships, and that is our goal whether it’s vendors, residents or coworkers. I say that I hire ‘hearts over heads.’”

From housekeeper to keeper of the keys

AngieAngie, who serves as executive director of Park Place of Fountain City, Knoxville, Tenn., started out as a housekeeper 20 years ago at Williamsburg Villas, where her mother and sister also had careers in senior living . She became administrative assistant at Williamsburg Villas, then was promoted to business office manager at Chandler House in Jefferson City, Tenn. Seven years later she became business office manager for Park Place of Fountain City and Park Place of West Knoxville, roles she served until her recent promotion to executive director at Park Place of Fountain City.​

Angie has a true passion for seniors and can’t imagine doing anything else. “I loved that part of it, the hands-on,” Angie says of her early days at Williamsburg Villas. “The fact that we’re right here, helping people make the most of their lives.” Even now, as an executive director with an office, Angie likes to get out and spend time with residents. “At least once a day I walk around our two buildings,” she says. Recalling one night when she filled in for one of her team members, a server in the dining room, Angie says, “I brought meals to one table and a resident said he was impressed to see the executive director serving them. I told him I was glad to be doing it!”

That whatever-it-takes attitude is common among Five Star team members and a reason why promotions are not uncommon as well. “I’m glad I started out as a housekeeper,” Angie says. “I share that during new hire training. I say, ‘Let me tell you about Five Star. You can go far here.’”

The rewards of longevity

While it’s true that residents benefit from team members “knowing the ropes” and their communities inside and out, these executive directors will tell you it’s their residents and coworkers who make careers in senior living so rewarding. It’s a two-way street.

“What gets me is who these people are and what they’ve done with their lives,” Larry says, citing captains of industry, university presidents and college professors among Meadowood residents over the years. He recalls getting to know a former president of Indiana University, an inventor of Crest toothpaste and a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and slept on one of the atomic bombs the night before it was dropped. “You wouldn’t know that the 98-year-old woman coming down the hallway using her walker was a charter member of the United Nations,” Larry says. “I just love getting to hear their stories and then doing what I can to let them put their feet up and enjoy their later years.”

Sara agrees. “We didn’t live near my grandparents when I was growing up, so it was great to meet so many seniors with awesome stories,” she says. She notes that it’s also the families that make Five Star communities special. “One of the really neat things about being here a long time is seeing second generations come through,” says Sara. “It says a lot that the children of former residents trust us to the point that they choose to come live here, too.”

Sara points out that she’s not alone in earning that trust—her experienced team is reassuring to residents as well. “We have great longevity among our department heads,” Sara says, noting that most have been with Five Star for ten years or more. Doing the important work of serving residents and families day after day for years on end also builds trust among colleagues, too, Sara points out. “My management team is part of my support network,” she says.

For Angie, it’s highly rewarding when you know you’ve made a difference. “I was taking a family for a tour one day,” she recalls. “Deciding to move their mother to senior living had been a very difficult decision for them. I was doing my best to reassure them their loved one would be happy and why. When we finished the tour, the daughter looked at me in tears and thanked me. She said, ‘I’ll never forget this.’ Moments like that make it all worth it.”

Mentors make a difference

Another benefit of careers in senior living at Five Star is the support of colleagues and the presence of mentors. Sara recalls how Shirley Bealmear, the director of nursing at The Forum when Sara was 22 years old, taught her the value of teamwork. “Shirley was six feet tall and could be intimidating,” Sara recalled. “But she had a big heart and also a strong work ethic. She also knew she couldn’t do it all, so she hired well. That was eye-opening for me.”

“I learned from my former executive director, Philip Moser, how to treat people,” Angie says. “He didn’t care if you were the trashman or the President of the United States. He treated everyone the same.”

“My executive director, Susan Bookout, was a great mentor to me over the years,” Larry says. “Susan advised me to get my administrator’s license back when I was running the IT department and then promoted me to assistant administrator. She was always there to guide me.”

A “life-changing” calling

A dietary aide, a housekeeper and a dishwasher who cleaned the ovens every night after the kitchen closed down. For Sara, Angie and Larry, those were the unlikely roles that launched successful careers at Five Star Senior Living—careers that have not only lasted decades but have had a lasting impact on thousands of residents and Five Star team members. It’s the very definition of success.

But it doesn’t come automatically. It takes dedication.

“It’s not just a job. If you have a heart and you’re willing to do the work, you’ll do well at Five Star,” Angie says, adding that the rewards are many. Sara agrees. “It is both heartwarming and amazing to see generations of families come to our community and know that they really trust us.”

“We’re a people business,” Larry says. “It can be life-changing. It makes you want to be a better person.”

Meaningful work, promising careers and happy residents: Call it the Five Star trifecta—a place where, thanks to the dedication of all of our team members, everyone wins.

Enjoy the rewards of Five Star living

If you’d like to live where people love what they do—and do for you—find out if there’s a Five Star Senior Living community in your desired location. We can’t wait to hear your story.

Interested in working for Five Star? Get in touch!

Give us a call: (833) 457-8271