Only two workers have been at The Meadows in Norfolk since its beginning in 1989, and both are calling it quits at the end of June.
Jan Nixon, executive director at The Meadows, and Gene Frisch always knew they would retire around the same time, largely because of the friendship they’ve developed in their nearly 31 years working together.
“We always said that when one of us retires, the other will, too,” Frisch said.
Nixon grew up in Chambers, and she lived only a mile from one set of grandparents and 3 miles from the other set. Nixon said she was fortunate that all four of her grandparents had long lives, so she had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with them farming and doing outdoor activities, sparking her love for senior citizens.
One of Nixon’s grandmothers was among the first graduating class from Bryan Health in Lincoln, and Nixon surrounded herself with others who had nursing backgrounds. Nixon knew by the time she graduated high school that she wanted to go to nursing school. She earned her license in practical nursing in south Texas, then moved back to Nebraska shortly after.
Nixon moved several times, working at facilities in Kearney, Lincoln, Grand Island and Casper, Wyoming. By 1986, Nixon knew she was capable of running a long-term care facility, and she was persistent with ownership at the time that she have the opportunity to direct a facility.
“I liked what I was doing, but I didn’t want to keep following people around,” Nixon said. “I knew there was an opportunity to be put in a new position.”
Nixon got her chance and was officially appointed executive director at The Meadows on May 1, 1989. At the time, The Meadows had only 12 staff members. Currently, the facility consists of 82 employees and houses 135 residents, growth that wouldn’t have been possible without Nixon at the helm.
In 1991, The Meadows added a two-story addition that included 24 apartments, and a year later, the facility added eight assisted living rooms. In 1994, garages were built for residents, and the same year, the third wing of The Meadows — which consists of 28 independent living apartments — was built.
Nixon said one of her favorite aspects of the job is the opportunity to build relationships with residents, some of whom she’s known through her entire tenure.
“Some of the current residents we have were always here visiting their parents or loved ones when I first started,” Nixon said. “Everything has really come full circle, and it’s bittersweet to think about all the relationships I’ve had the opportunity to build over the years.”
Nixon has served on various health care boards over the past 31 years and has been actively involved with the Nebraska Assisted Living Organization. In 2004, Nixon was awarded the Assisted Living Administrator of the Year, a national honor she was presented with in San Antonio, Texas.
Several staffers at The Meadows also have won state awards in health care, and Nixon said it goes to show that The Meadows is one of the premier long-term care facilities in Nebraska.
Nixon said she has thought about retirement for a number of years, but Nye Health Services owner and founder Russ Peterson, who purchased The Meadows from J. Paul McIntosh in 2014, convinced her to stay as long as she did.
“I knew that the place would be run similarly to how Paul operated, and I was excited about the opportunity to work with Russ,” Nixon said.
The Meadows has since added nine assisted living apartments, a wellness center and nine assisted living suites. The Meadows also made the addition of 18 memory care housing options to accommodate residents with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Nixon was planning a public retirement celebration in April, but she said that will likely be moved to August or September because of COVID-19. Her retirement plans consist of traveling, writing a book, camping, boating, volunteering more in the community and helping local charities.
Frisch, 87, worked on a farm in Northeast Nebraska but in 1979, he was involved in an accident in which he inhaled anhydrous ammonia fertilizer, severely hindering his breathing. In 1984, his breathing struggles became so severe that he moved to the thin air of Colorado near Estes Park.
Once his condition improved, Frisch and his family moved back to the area. Frisch had known McIntosh, who was previously a teacher in Newman Grove. McIntosh asked Frisch to work at The Meadows in the summer of 1989, and it’s a job Frisch has had ever since.
Frisch served as the head of maintenance for several years and has taken on several other responsibilities during his tenure. In recent years, he’s taken on the responsibility of taking residents on shopping trips, doctor visits and haircut appointments in the company limo.
“My favorite part about the job has been the people,” Frisch said. “From Jan, to all the other workers and the people I’ve gotten to know, that’s really been the best thing for me.”
Frisch will turn 88 in August, and he plans to spend his increased amount of free time doing crafts and visiting his children, who live in Norfolk, Omaha and Valley.
“I’ll certainly miss the place,” Frisch said. “I never really had any idea I’d be here this long, but I’m looking forward to seeing what’s next.”