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Wellness Check

The Family Culture Behind Schlegel Villages

Sep 2022 | By Kristian Partington

Since 1953, the Schlegel Family’s calling to offer a true sense of home and belonging for older adults has grown in waves, fuelled by their passion and commitment to learn from the residents they serve and the team members and partners who bring their vision to life.

Their Long-Term Care and Retirement Villages thrive because the family culture has only grown stronger over the course of three generations. As a mission-driven, family organization, Schlegel Villages believes every person connected to Village life has something important to offer and the value of each contribution can never be overstated.

The family strives to “provide holistic health care in a home environment, located within an internal neighbourhood design that promotes a caring community, with emphasis on optimal health and life purpose for each resident.” To understand how this mission thrives in the 21st Century, however, one must look back to the foundations that Wilfred and Emma Schlegel and Max and Florence Becker laid for their children and grandchildren.

These were humble, hardworking people who believed in the power of community. With Emma at his side, Wilfred would excel as a Mennonite pastor, a farmer and land steward. He cared for young and old alike, purchasing the “Egerton Private Hospital” in London in 1953, which was effectively a nursing home for up to 30 residents. Wilfred’s heart was always open to helping others in need and the nursing home where his son Ron would often help support residents was an extension of that mission to serve others.

“Dad was a servant leader and a social entrepreneur long before those terms were coined,” says Wilfred’s son, Ron, the founder of Schlegel Villages. “He helped many others who came to him for advice and guidance or for financial assistance. He had a knack for making money and he shared his financial resources readily with others who were less fortunate. Money was not an end for him, but a resource to accomplish social or community goals.”

The Beckers harboured a similar sense of community and when Ron married their daughter, Barb, their influence helped further his quest to enhance life for his neighbours around him.

In the early 1990s when Ron Schlegel opened his first long-term care Village in Kitchener, he envisioned a community hub inviting neighbours from all around to take advantage of the different amenities available. It would be a long-term care community like no other, eventually linking to a retirement home serving anyone of any ability, from fully independent seniors to people with complex care needs, memory loss and dementia.

Some 30 years and 19 Villages later, this vision of a continuum-of-care continues to expand into new communities. The Village concept was always meant to create a living space for seniors that feels like small town Ontario, in many ways like Ron experienced growing up in the woods and fields surrounding Ailsa Craig outside of London.

The continuum-of-care model at Schlegel Villages, which combines publicly-funded long-term care with retirement homes that are paid for by residents themselves, is unique in Ontario, and it is the success of this combined system that fuels the ability of the organization to spread its mission to more communities across the province. It begins with long-term care, ensuring that those who can no longer be supported in their own homes are cared for within a community that meets their physical needs as well as their need for meaningful connections, growth and life purpose. These LTC homes are not the nursing homes of the past, tucked away at the edge of town, but instead are designed as community hubs that welcome neighbours from the surrounding community.

Success is achieved when the amenities available at the Village connect people outside the walls with what’s available to them inside. The Villages become seniors’ centres when those living at home can benefit from coming to the Village for services and programs, and they are centres of education where future caregivers inside Living Classrooms learn from hands-on experience alongside team members and residents.

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