Executive Q&A with Don Blose: Retirement village exec considers himself part of the family
It’s lunchtime at the Spanish Cove Retirement Village, and CEO Don Blose greets residents as they enter the cafeteria. Noticeably, he calls each by name.
Blose figures he knows 95% of the 320 people in the 62+ continuing care retirement community, whether they live in the village’s cottages, apartments or nursing home wing. And that goes for his 170-person staff, too.
“There’s a sense of community here,” said Blose, who’s led the nonprofit public trust since 2011. “Everybody out here becomes an important part of people’s lives.
“This job has taught me to appreciate the simple things in life — like friendship. People pray for you if you’re not feeling good, visit you if you’re lonely, and unless they have a disease of the brain, their minds only get better with time.”
Spanish Cove offers amenities and programs for every phase of retirement, from independent living to home health care, skilled nursing, assisted living, and nursing care. An expansion project is underway to add more nursing home rooms and memory care.
From the community at 11 Palm in Yukon, Blose sat down with The Oklahoman on Monday to talk about his life and career, including Spanish Cove’s NTO (Never Too Old) Innovations group. This is an edited transcript:
Tell us about the family you grew up in.
My father, the late Murray Blose, was a math professor at OSU. My mother primarily was a homemaker, but worked part-time at the Stillwater hospital. We weren’t wealthy at all, but made do with little. I have three brothers, one older and two younger, who both work for Flintco Construction. We grew up southeast of OSU, on a farm between Stillwater and Ripley where my mother, Kay Blose, still lives. My older brother, a cabinet maker and volunteer preacher, lives next door. We lost my dad to emphysema and COPD seven years ago. I inherited his gentle spirit, patience, kindness and sense of humor. A godly, Christian woman, my mother shared some of his same qualities and has always been an encourager. They were two people in love.
I bet there were plenty of antics pulled among you four brothers.
Yes. If one of us got into trouble, we all got in trouble. So we learned early to keep secrets and police ourselves. When my brother Jim and I were in the seventh and sixth grades, we decided to bring snakes we’d found on the farm to church, University Heights Baptist Church in Stillwater. Then, during the service, we looked at each other and, without exchanging a word, simultaneously decided to let our snakes loose. We pulled our feet into the pew and waited for screams that never came. We thought maybe they crawled into the purses of parishioners. When we were leaving church, Jim turned to me and said, “Donnie, God has disintegrated those snakes, and we’ll be struck by lightning when we go out those doors!” Thankfully, he was wrong.
Did you go to OSU for college?
Yes, but there were no tuition discounts because my father was on the faculty. In our family, you paid your way through college if you wanted to go. I flipped burgers at McDonald’s and, in the summers, worked in construction or as a roughneck to earn more pay. Of course, it helped that we lived at home; it was about a 20-minute drive to campus. My brother Jim and I lived in a shotgun house with a wood-burning stove, so we had some independence. We went over to the big house for our meals.
What was your major and your first professional job?
I earned a degree in public affairs, which was like a political science degree, and after a short break helping with my brother’s cabinet business, went back to earn my master’s in public administration. Like many young men, I dreamed of being president one day; I even prepared a national budget. But I graduated soon after Penn Square Bank failed and there were no jobs. I tested for and landed a job as a statistical analyst for the state health department, where I worked 26 years. Initially, I worked in maternal child health, conducting assessments to try to predict those babies likely to be born with low birth weights, which led to initiatives to reduce the incidence rates. The last 12 years of my state career, I served as state immunization director and, among other things, worked with many public and private partners to move Oklahoma from 49th in the nation in childhood immunizations to 17th. Today, most childhood immunizations in Oklahoma are administered in a child’s first year of life.
How’d you come to join Spanish Cove?
I served on the Spanish Cove board, and after I told CEO Sherman Huff that I was retiring from the state, he suggested that I replace him when he resigned his position. I joined the staff in June 2011 and for the first 15 months served as assistant director. I used part of the time to complete an internship requirement for my nursing home administrator’s license and got a great year of mentoring from Sherman to ensure my smooth transition.
Tell us more about Spanish Cove’s NTO (Never Too Old) Innovations.
Some 10,000 baby boomers retire each day. By 2050, one in four people will be 65 or older. And our state — and nation — lack the infrastructure to accommodate them all. So, many will be aging in place. Some 40 to 50 of our Spanish Cove residents are meeting regularly with engineering students from OU and OSU to brainstorm innovations to help seniors stay in their homes. One innovation being tested is an affordable product to help lower upper cabinets to counter height, so that contents are within reach. Another is a sliding gadget that hangs on the top of a closet and allows seniors with rotator cuff problems to back into jackets and pull them over their shoulders. Eighty percent of our residents are independent and active. They are brilliant, purposeful people who want to be engaged in their passions and in life.
How’d you meet your wife?
Julie had served as a school aide to my eldest, and autistic, son David when he was in the second grade. We started dating years later, after my first marriage ended. We sat by each other at church one Sunday, and I invited her to lunch afterward. Over a shared bucket of chicken, she mentioned she liked movies and to call her if I ever wanted to go. It was nice that she gave me that hint; otherwise, I might not have asked her out for fear of rejection. It was also a silver lining that I’d lost a re-election run for the Yukon Public Schools Board, because board members couldn’t date district employees. We’ll celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary in April.
Position: Spanish Cove Retirement Village, CEO and executive administrator
Graduated high school from: Stillwater High School, where he wrestled and played football
Education: Oklahoma State University, master’s in public administration. A public relations minor, he wrote for “The O’Colly.”
Spouse: Julie, former second-grade and home school teacher and current owner-operator of Blose Barn and Garden event venue, which is located on their 10-acre property in Yukon
Children: Amy Scott, 33, of Seattle; David Blose, 31, of Yukon; Justin Blose, 28, of Yukon; Faith Blose, 18, and Matt Blose, 17, of the home; and granddaughter Violet Blose, 4, of Yukon.
Pets: three cats, two rescued basset hounds, 50 chickens, 20 ducks and eight turkeys
Worship: Spanish Cove Sunday services led by a retired Nazarene minister who lives there
Public service: He was elected to, served and chaired the Yukon Public Schools Board for five years in the early ‘90s.
Free time: wood carving. He’s carved figurines, furniture and bowls from Walnut trees harvested from his family’s 80-acre farm near Ripley.