Celebrating 30 years of serving seniors

Happy birthday Ecumenical!

30 years ago, in February of 1994, Ecumenical Retirement Community opened its doors to serve older adults.

Its concept was unique—a not-for-profit retirement community, led by an independent board of trustees, with a mission to provide retirement living services to lower-middle- and middle-income seniors in the Harrisburg area.

Members of Harrisburg’s religious community help to break ground at Ecumenical Retirement Community.

It all began years earlier as an idea by former Pennsylvania Governor George M. Leader, who had founded Country Meadows Retirement Communities just nine years prior. Gov. Leader was passionate about finding ways to help others as evidenced during his tenure as governor. His administration was noted for its accomplishments to promote human welfare, especially updating the state mental health system, establishing the Office of Aging, setting the Commonwealth’s first licensure program for practical nurses as well as improving education and job creation. So, his goal to find ways to serve seniors fit right in with his personal mission to help others.

“My father was happily enthusiastic and passionate about changing his world, and he found tremendous gratification in solving problems,” says Gov. Leader’s daughter, Jane Leader-Janeczek.

Ecumenical Retirement Community construction in 1993.

During a phone call on Christmas day in 1986, Gov. Leader shared his vision for what would become Ecumenical with colleague and friend, John Rhodes—a respected entrepreneur in the banking and real estate development industries. Eventually the duo garnered support from the business, banking and religious communities and began developing the idea.

According to Gov. Leader’s son, Michael, executive chairman, “The idea was that with careful planning and not-for-profit status, they could develop a retirement community for more moderate-income seniors. The idea had germinated and been in play for several years when they put together a board of community leaders and members of faith-based denominations in the Harrisburg area.”

The original 12-member board of trustees was made up of business and religious leaders, including top officials of the local Roman Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America denominations. Board members contracted with the George M. Leader Family Corp., the Leader family company which also manages Country Meadows, to organize and operate the Ecumenical. This partnership continues today. (Scroll down to see members of the original board of trustees.)

According to the late Dr. John O. Hershey, first Chairman for the board of trustees, “Ecumenical is firm proof that central Pennsylvanians care about their fellow man. The concept springs from a sense of obligation to the men and women who made this country great. Now retired, they most certainly deserve a comfortable, secure, affordable retirement community. Members of the board are indebted to the inspiration and hard work of former Governor George M. Leader who helped make this dream come true.”

“The board continues to be an independent board of trustees, and they make the decisions for the community,” says Michael Leader, who continues, “[The George M. Leader Family Corp.] can recommend things, but the board can agree or disagree with our recommendations.”

The building begins to take shape as Ecumenical Retirement Community is built.

“We want to provide all the elements and trimmings of other retirement homes, but at a significantly lower price. This cooperative program will provide healthful physical and mental activity for residents and contribute to a wholesome sense of well-being through purposeful service,” said Hershey.

Eventually the group found a site in Susquehanna Township that was priced accordingly, but had a lot of legal restrictions on it. Michael Leader recalls, “There was a planned subdivision that was never built, but required us to obtain permission from each person who had bought into that concept.” He goes on to share that team members spent several months literally going door to door to obtain sign offs and secure permissions to start the project.

Thanks to Rhodes’ connections in the banking world, the project obtained financing with the Pennsylvania Housing and Finance Agency. “The idea was that they would get attractive financing with a low interest rate and the not-for-profit would not be subject to real estate taxes. That allowed the facility to then be priced at a lower rate,” says Michael Leader. “Part of the understanding the PA Housing and Finance is that we take some residents who qualify for SSI.”

And with all the parts in place, ground was broken for Ecumenical Retirement Community on May 3, 1993, and doors to Building 1 opened the next February.

Construction continues on Ecumenical Retirement Community.

“Ecumenical was the pinnacle of what George was trying accomplish,” said the late John Rhodes. We would talk for hours about this idea he had to establish a place for lower income [seniors]. You had to admire George; he was one of those guys you couldn’t say ‘no’ to. If he asked you to do something, you’d gladly do it because you just knew something good was going to come out of it!”

Long-term co-worker, Jason Turri, director of marketing, notes that Ecumenical truly is unique in the Harrisburg market. “I tell families that we are managed by [our sister company, Country Meadows Retirement Communities,] but also by a third-party board of trustees that oversees operations. And you see members of the Leader family; they visit campus and make sure to greet residents and co-workers and get to know them.”

The goal for residents of both Ecumenical Retirement Community and Country Meadows is the same—to help them continue to lead active, engaging lives.

Turri’s colleague, Director of Marketing Treva Nell, agrees. “The value of what you pay for here at Ecumenical versus others is amazing. We have the same programming, but also have a full-time chaplain, a full-time fitness director as well as dynamic living and amenities. You just don’t find what you get here at other places.”

“Ecumenical is a special place,” says Michael Leader. “I feel the same kind of pride and optimism for the future of Ecumenical Retirement Community as my father did during its development.”

Founding Members Ecumenical Retirement Community Board of Trustees
Chairman-John O. Hershey, Ed.D, Board Chairman and President-Milton Hershey School (Retired)
Vice Chairman-Milton H. Appleyard, President and CEO Emeritus-Capital Health Systems of Harrisburg
President-The Reverend Harvey A. Everett, Vice President of Resident Services-Country Meadows Retirement Communities and Ecumenical
Secretary/Treasurer-John H. Rhodes, Managing General Partner-Alexander Development Group

Board Members
The Most Reverend Nicholas C. Datillo, Bishop-Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg
The Reverend Guy S. Edmiston, Jr., Bishop-Lower Susquehanna Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Ronald D. Glosser, President and Chief Executive Officer-Hershey Trust Company
Clifford L. Jones, President-Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry (Retired)
The Reverend Felton E. May, Bishop-Harrisburg Area United Methodist Church
The Reverend Charlie F. McNutt, Jr., Bishop-Diocese of Central Pennsylvania Episcopal Church
The Reverend Clyde W. Roach, President-Interdenominational Ministers’ Conference of Greater Harrisburg
Moses K. Rosenberg, Esq., Retired as a Senior Partner of McNees, Wallace and Murick
Elsie W. Swenson, Board Member-HERCO (Hershey Entertainment & Resorts)


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