Parkside administrator returns to central Kansas roots


Gretchen Wagner says she fell in love with seniors as a young girl. ?It just came kind of naturally,? she said.

Family drew her to Kansas, and quality of care attracted her to the role of administrator at Parkside Homes in Hillsboro.

Gretchen Wagner began her job at Parkside Oct. 1. As administrator, she is in charge of the long-term care facility.

?I love the people,? Wagner said. ?They have a great staff here and the residents are incredible. I was amazed by how many residents committed to pray for me within my first week here, and how welcoming the people were.?

Wagner, whose grandparents lived in Hillsboro, said she fell in love with seniors as a young girl. She grew up in Wichita but spent many winters with her grandparents in Sun City, Ariz.

?Having been close to my grandparents all my life, it just kind of came naturally,? she said of her commitment to senior care. ?Some of my favorite memories are of playing chess with the chess club in Sun City when I was 6 and 8 years old.?

After high school, Wagner attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., where she earned a social work degree in 1995. She immediately went to work in the field of long-term care in Virginia, but the experience was less than fulfilling.

?I was somewhat frustrated with long-term care at that point because it was very clinical, with sterile facilities?it just didn?t feel like home,? she said. ?I wanted to see people have a better quality of life.?

She began working in the area of adoption social work until her husband Doug?s job took them to Ohio, where she returned to the long-term care field.

?I found a company there that had really ventured into culture change and became a part of their residential-care facility,? Wagner said.

Culture change is a national movement to make long-term care more personal and individualized for seniors.

?I was able to meld my passion for quality of life and caring for seniors,? she said of the assignment. Part of her job was to help develop the company a more home-like facility from the ground up.

?It was an incredible experience,? she said. ?I was very happy with what I was doing. But then I felt distinctly that the Lord was calling us to come back closer to family. You only get family once.?

While in Hillsboro on a visit, Wagner dropped in on Lu Janzen, Parkside chief executive officer, to find out what it would take to become credentialed for senior care in Kansas.

?Before too long, she called me back and asked if I?d be interested in coming here,? Wagner said.

Parkside?s progress in culture change made the opportunity attractive.

?I think the leadership of Parkside has taken Parkside miles ahead of the curve in long-term care,? Wagner said. ?It puts me into an incredible place to begin serving here. They?re a long way ahead of the curve already, so it?s a matter of keeping going in providing home-like care.?

Wagner is completing an administrator-in-training program so she will be fully credentialed in the state.

She sees her role as administrator at Parkside as one more member of a team effort.

?Really, it?s just another pair of hands and feet and eyes to do service for our residents,? she said. ?We?re here to support the community and support the people who have been entrusted to our care?and it takes all of us to do that.?

She and husband Doug, who has a background in sports management and information technology, have two children: Layton, a fifth-grader, and Lana, a fourth-grader.

Wagner said the transition to Hillsboro has been good for all of them.

?It feels very good to be home,? she said. ?The kids are adjusting well, Doug loves Kansas?so we?re doing great.?

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