Gary T. Johanson, 80, former executive director of the Washington and Jane Smith Home, in Morgan Park, the precursor of Smith Village, died July 6.
A celebration of his life was held Aug. 5 at First United Methodist Church in Sun City, Ariz.
According to Kevin McGee, president and CEO of Smith Senior Living, Johanson joined Washington and Jane Smith Home as an administrator in March 1980 and was later named executive director. Johanson, who lived for many years with his family in Beverly, retired in October 2002.
“I know that many of our neighbors and the generations of families that Smith has served join us in extending our heartfelt condolences to Gary’s wife, Donna, as well as their son, Gary Paul, his wife, Elena, and their four children,” McGee said.
“We were delighted that they traveled here from their home in Arizona to celebrate our anniversary on May 1, 2014—exactly 90 years to the day when Oakhaven Old People’s Home, the original name for Smith Village’s campus, welcomed its first residents. I learned so much about leadership from Gary after I joined Washington and Jane Smith 20 years ago when our Beverly campus was the only Smith community.”
According to Jim Fitch, who worked side by side with Johanson in Fitch’s role as Smith’s board president during nearly 40 years of volunteer leadership, Johansen advanced the model for Washington and Jane Smith Home by adding a new wing for skilled-nursing care, which opened in 1992.
“His proposal for that major addition was a strategic leap of faith for the board, even though they trusted Gary’s expertise and wisdom,” Fitch said. “When he retired, the board named the wing along Oakley Street in his honor.
“He also set the stage for the development of Smith Crossing in Orland Park as our board explored ways to serve new generations of families.”
After he retired from the board, Fitch was recruited by Johanson to lead the construction team for Smith Crossing. Eventually, Fitch also led the redevelopment of Washington and Jane Smith Home to become Smith Village.
“Gary also built the Smith culture, which continues to earn an exemplary reputation hereabouts,” Fitch said. “He is responsible for instilling the resident-first culture that still guides Smith Village and Smith Crossing today.
“Whenever our board had to make a decision, Gary’s first question was ‘How will this change affect our residents?’”
Jeanne Foley, who served as Smith’s admissions director and worked with Johanson for 17 years at Washington and Jane Smith Home, said Johanson constantly kept Smith residents in mind.
“Gary always hired the staff with residents in mind,” Foley said. “He encouraged professional growth and inspired teamwork so that residents’ needs would be met in the best possible way.
“As soon as Gary walked in the door, we could feel his presence as he fortified the sense of family that he created for both staff and residents. He had a knack for making each of us feel indispensable. Gary inspired loyalty by creating a leadership team that met weekly. We functioned as a community of department teams.”
Johanson spent most of his 32-year career in senior living at Smith, according to McGee. After Johanson retired, he and Donna moved to Sun City, where he served on the board of Glencroft Community.
In 2011, he was honored with the Diamond Award and was named Trustee of the Year by Aging Services of Arizona.
“We’ll always remember Gary as a devoted family man. To spend more time with Donna, he recruited her to volunteer almost full time at Smith,” said Fitch. “Gary was a competent, dedicated, generous and an outgoing person who had the courage to act on his vision to advance the model for senior-living communities. We still benefit today from what Gary put in motion almost 40 years ago.”