By Rachel Kytonen
She’s called it her ‘home away from home’ the past 23 years, but she’s decided it’s finally time to step away.
Judy Thomas, who has been the manager of Riverwood Village senior housing facility since it opened its doors in 1988 has decided to retire. Her last day with Riverwood Village was Friday, Feb. 10.
A Retirement Tea in honor of Thomas will be held at Riverwood Village, 909 South Dellwood, Cambridge, on Thursday, Feb. 16, from 3:30 to 6 p.m. All tenants and their families (past and present) and friends are invited to attend and offer their well wishes.
“Close to 300 people have gone through these doors since we opened and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know each and every one of them,” Thomas said last week. “I’ve gotten to know them and their families. I live in a small home, but call this place my big home. It has also been my home. This has really been a great job.”
Riverwood Village, which is owned by Allina Hospitals & Clinics, is an independent senior living facility, but also offers certain amenities such as a noon meal, chapel and activities for its tenants.
Dennis Doran, president of Cambridge Medical Center, feels Thomas did a wonderful job at Riverwood Village.
“You can see Judy’s stamp all over Riverwood Village,” Doran said. “She was the first and only manager since the doors first opened. Like a mother, she has nurtured this wonderful living facility and made it a home for so many people over the years. Riverwood Village is like family to Judy. She genuinely cares about the tenants and provides them with tender, loving care. She treats them like they are family—because to her, they are.”
Thomas explained Riverwood Village, which offers 45 individual apartments, opened its doors in 1988 with 10 apartments occupied. Within 18 months, it was completely filled.
“That really showed us what a need this was for our community,” Thomas noted.
Doran feels Thomas has touched the lives of all her tenants.
“Judy’s been a strong advocate for the tenants, making sure their voices were heard and needs were met,” Doran said. “Now it’s time for her to have some well-deserved time for herself. We are grateful to Judy for everything she has given to Riverwood Village over the years and wish her all the best in her retirement.”
Thomas recalls one of the more challenging situations was when a tornado damaged the facility in 1995 and 11 apartments were destroyed.
“We had 11 people displaced for about four to five months because of the tornado,” Thomas explained.
She also mentioned the July 2011 storm that took down a lot of trees around Riverwood Village. The area lost a lot of trees, but she said fortunately no one was injured.
Paula Eilertson, manager of nutrition and food services, said Thomas has been a wonderful manager of Riverwood Village.
“Generous, selfless, caring and committed are words that enter my mind when asked to describe Judy Thomas,” Eilertson said. “Since 1988 she has generously shared not only her housing managerial skills, but her heart with the many tenants that have made Riverwood their home. She is the first face they see every morning, ready with a smile and genuine concern for their comfort and welfare. Judy’s job has never been a 9 to 5 routine. With blizzards, tornadoes, floods and mechanical breakdowns, not to mention personal crises faced by tenants and families, Judy was never more than a phone call away. Riverwood tenants and Cambridge Medical Center are very lucky to have had this lovely lady in their lives for 23 years and she will be greatly missed.”
Thomas said she will miss the people. She mentioned one of the charter members of Riverwood Village just moved into a nursing home last winter, and the oldest tenant currently in the building has been living there 17 years.
“I will really miss my staff and my tenants,” Thomas said. “Most of my staff has been with me the past 17 to 18 years and we have become a family. We’ve gone through a lot of things together such as death of parents and birth of grandchildren. We have really become a family.”
Rosalie Peterson, Riverwood Village specialist, and Thomas’ coworker for the past six years, said Thomas always went the extra mile to care.
“The thing that stands out for me is how much Judy cares about the tenants,” Peterson said. “She knows them so well—not only them but their families, too. She was always doing little extra things for them like driving people to pick up their tax forms, or to the bank, or to a doctor’s appointment. Little things that made their lives easier that weren’t part of her job description. If someone was in the hospital, Judy would be over there first thing in the morning to check on them, even before coming to work. That’s the kind of person she is. So kind hearted. The residents had a party for her last Friday, on her last day. Let me tell you, there were plenty of tears. She will be missed.”
Thomas is retiring from Riverwood Village knowing it will be left in good hands. She mentioned a new manager has been hired, and will do a great job for Riverwood Village.
“The new manager has been here for about three weeks, so our tenants are getting to know her and become comfortable with her,” Thomas said. “Elderly people are resilient, and they knew this change was coming and are doing good with it.”
Nancy Treacy, finance director and Judy’s manager, said she was always impressed with Thomas.
“I have had the privilege of working with Judy for the past three years and have been so impressed by her passion and commitment to Riverwood and our tenants,” Treacy said. “Judy has made sure that Riverwood is maintained to the highest quality standards.”
Thomas felt the timing was right for her to retire.
“I planned I would retire before I was 70 and the timing just seems right,” Thomas said. “I’m turning it over to good hands. I’ve loved taking care of my tenants and having fun with them. This age of people is a fun age and I’ve learned a lot from them. They have stories to tell and I’ve loved hearing about all of them. The best part of this whole deal has been the people I’ve met. I’ve really enjoyed doing what I’ve been doing the past 23 years. Riverwood Village is about its tenants. It’s a beautiful building, but what makes it so great are the people who live here. It has been a wonderful job for me.”