New director hired at The Cedars

Published 10:12 am Monday, July 14, 2008

“I like to be out in the community,” said Pat Kitchings, the new executive director at The Cedars of Austin, describing her management style.

“At The Cedars, I like to be walking around. I learn more from observing what’s going on and listening to the residents and staff,” she said. “I don’t consider myself to be a ‘boss;’ I consider myself as one of the team members. I look to all those who work here and perform duties in their areas of expertise, I look to them for support.”

She has learned a great deal by observation in her career in the senior living industry.

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“Over the years, when I was first in senior housing and retirement living, I was in sales and marketing and gained an incredible amount of experience and knowledge, working with the senior population,” Kitchings said. “That learning has continued throughout my career.”

Now, residents of The Cedars will teach her more.

The Cedars of Austin is a “retirement community,” according to owner Darrel A. Farr Development Corp., and not a nursing home or residential care center.

It is elegantly appointed throughout. Sumptuous furnishings are everywhere and the dining room is reminiscent of the building’s origins as a Holiday Inn hotel and restaurant.

It has 129 apartments, including independent and assisted living and memory care.

There are more than 60 full- and part-time employees.

In a sense, taking the executive director’s position at The Cedars is part of a homecoming Kitchings is experiencing: Austin is her hometown.

Pat Hull was born at the former St. Olaf Hospital; worked as a candy striper at the former Burr Oak Manor Nursing Home; graduated from Pacelli High School; and worked briefly at Hormel Foods Corporation corporate offices before starting her career in the senior living industry.

Kitchings is the total package in managing a retirement community; her credentials are impeccable. They include stints at facilities in California, Nevada, Virginia and Arizona — even Japan.

Sales and marketing stints also complement her tenure in operations and management.

Her continuing education is extensive and ongoing.

And part of her background — a valuable part, according to Kitchings — includes working as an outreach coordinator for Semcac’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program in Mower, Dodge and Steele counties.

Since 1982, she has worked mainly in the senior living industry.

Kitchings was doing consulting work in retirement living before coming to Austin to take over The Cedars post.

“I was wanting to be challenged and this community, I thought, was an opportunity for getting involved again with seniors,” she said of the motivation to come to Austin. “And I wanted to return to Minnesota.”

Kitchings has forsaken warmer climates to return to Minnesota before. She even took a year off and luxuriated at her cabin in northern Minnesota. Point? She hasn’t forgotten Minnesota’s second season: winter.

She has a brother, Mike, who lives in Austin; two sisters, one at Owatonna and another in California; and a daughter who lives in California with three children.

But Kitchings has an extended family of sorts with the residents of The Cedars and the staff.

“When I was younger, I never dreamed I would be doing something like this,” she said. “I knew I would be doing something with people as opposed to working with a computer all day. I’m more people-oriented than anything.”

For now, she’s relearning the ropes of the senior living industry at The Cedars.

“There’s a great deal of self-gratification in the industry,” Kitchings said. “When you go home at night, you may be exhausted from another day’s work, but realizing you’ve made a difference in a senior’s life makes up for that.

“It may be only listening to their concerns or walking down a corridor with them, but those little things can mean a lot,” she said.