'The best things in my life have come out of being curious'

'The best things in my life have come out of being curious'

URBANA — Of all the life lessons Deb Reardanz has picked up from the older adults of Clark-Lindsey Village, she'll tell you the one that stands out the most is how important relationships are.

People who have formed connections with other people and are still willing to make a new friend at 90 are the happiest, she said.

"To see it in action here helps me keep it a first priority, and it makes me a happier person," Reardanz said.

The 44-year-old president and CEO of Clark-Lindsey Village, Reardanz will receive a top honor from the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce today.

She's been named the 29th recipient of the Athena Award, which is given to a woman who demonstrates excellence and creativity in her professional life, serves her community and helps other women reach their leadership potential.

Two Clark-Lindsey board members who nominated Reardanz called her a "visionary" with a passion for creating an environment that celebrates personal growth.

"She has created a healthy community, and this is not always easy in communal living and long-term-care environments," wrote Kathleen Holden and David Hood.

Also a CPA and married mother of two, Reardanz has been with Clark-Lindsey, an Urbana continuing-care retirement or "life plan" community, for 20 years. She was named president and CEO in 2009.

She grew up the oldest of four kids, the daughter of a hospital administrator dad and nurse mom. Her early years were spent in Brazil, Ind., and her family moved to Illinois when she was in middle school when her dad took a new job in Dixon.

She attended high school away from home at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, and finished her degree in accountancy at the University of Illinois in three years.

All in the family

Reardanz met her husband, Bruce, when she was a UI student. She was working at a sub shop and he was her boss.

After they got married and started a family, she went to work as a tax and audit accountant at Clifton Gunderson, and he became a stay-at-home dad with their kids, Tim and Suzie, both of whom are in college now.

"We have been a team ever since the beginning," she said.

Reardanz decided to make a career switch when she was still a young mother who didn't want her kids to always know when it was tax season and their mom wouldn't be around much.

She was first hired as Clark-Lindsey's business services director, and took over as chief financial officer six years later. Along the way to becoming CEO, she also got an MBA from Eastern Illinois University and became a licensed nursing home administrator.

Reardanz said Clark-Lindsey has about 260 residents and 260 employees, and it's all about a lot more than meals, shelter and health care for the older adults who live there. It's about everyone — employees and residents — being "in the very best place they can be," she said.

"At the very core of Clark-Lindsey, we're about maximizing the well-being of everyone here," she said.

Holden and Hood said Reardanz is a gifted supervisor with employees, a leader devoted to developing future leaders, and a CEO who never makes a major program or facility decision without consulting residents.

"She is a leader who respects the intellectual abilities of older adults and is committed to giving control to those adults," they wrote.

"Too often, well-meaning service providers don't make older adults part of the design team for services. Not only does this deprive the providers of the opportunity to learn from the life experiences and suggestions of older adults, it diminishes the sense of control that is particularly important for this population. Deb gets it."

A tip: 'Stay curious'

Holden recalled a tour she took of Clark-Lindsey with Reardanz some five years ago that helped her make up her mind to serve on the board.

While they were taking the tour, Holden said, she'd noticed saws and other equipment in the woodworking shop and asked Reardanz, wasn't she worried about liability? Reardanz told her if that was the biggest concern, "we'd encourage our residents to stay in bed all day," Holden said.

Seeing that respect for older adults, "that did it for me," Holden said. "I will be part of an organization that values who people are, and how you can work with them to help them grow."

Reardanz said Clark-Lindsey is in a major growth phase and she's looking forward to the opening of two new developments — a new fitness and aquatic center and the first of two "Green House" memory care homes — both coming soon.

She also loves to teach. She helped launch LeadingAge Illinois Leadership Academy, which has a mission to develop leaders able to advocate for older adults, and dozens of interns have graduated from a program she started at Clark-Lindsey in 2012.

Every day, she enjoys being in the middle of two generations — the younger interns and the older adults at Clark Lindsey, Reardanz said.

With the interns, she advises easing off on the pressure to feel it's necessary to have everything all figured out.

"I think having it all figured out is overrated," she said.

She doesn't want to have it all figured out for herself, either, she said. She wants to be surprised.

"The best things in my life have come out of being curious," she said. "My best advice would be to stay curious and open to opportunities that come along."

Through the years

Deb Reardanz is the 29th winner of the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce's Athena Award. Past recipients:

2016: Denise Martin
2015: Amy Randolph
2014: Sandi Jones
2013: Bianca T. Green
2012: Cindy Somers
2011: Lori Gold Patterson
2010: Lynne Barnes
2009: Kathleen Holden
2008: Jane Hays
2007: Donna Greene
2006: Jayne DeLuce
2005: Sue Grey
2004: Beth Katsinas
2003: Diane Friedman
2002: Traci Nally
2001: Lyn Jones
2000: Linda Hamilton
1999: Anita Broeren
1998: Theresa Grentz
1997: Zelema Harris
1996: Shirley Anderson
1995: Mary McGrath
1994: Linda Mills
1993: Jan Kiley
1992: Nanette Fisher
1991: Gloria Dauten
1990: Elizabeth Curzon
1989: Ruth Jones