Third leader in rich 57-year history starts by immersing herself in all things GA and community
by Jim Boyle
Traci Larson has adopted a team approach to her new job as the president and CEO of Guardian Angels Senior Services.
The 54-year-old Franklin, Nebraska, native and 2003 University of Minnesota graduate with a degree as a licensed nursing home administrator became the organization’s third leader in its rich 57-year-history on May 2.
She has spent the previous 19 years with Presbyterian Homes in the Twin Cities, most recently as the vice president of employee experience and human resources for nearly six years.
She has spent the first four months of her new job immersing herself within Guardian Angels itself and the community that surrounds it. There have been picnics, community events, golf tournaments, celebrations, meet-and-greets and assorted meetings across all of the organization’s campuses in the communities of Albertville, Becker, Elk River, Otsego and Zimmerman that Guardian Angels serves.
She has come away impressed not only by the team around her, but also the connectivity of the community around them.
“It’s really surprising in a very good way how connected the people in this community are,” Larson said. “It makes my wheels start to turn about how to leverage that commitment and purpose that people have to serve in different ways to help our seniors so we continue to provide for our community.”
It’s no secret the senior population is exploding, and the workforce population is not.
“It will push us to be creative,” Larson said.
This is Larson’s first job as a CEO, one she feels very comfortable taking on.
“I have some good context of how the business works, but I really love coming back to a community that’s kind of outside of the metro; that’s a little more like what I grew up with when I think back,” she said.
Larson served in a variety of roles with Presbyterian Homes in nearly two decades with that organization. Her commute from Forest Lake to Elk River is about the same distance-wise as it was to Roseville, but it has a very different feel.
“I can see cows on my way in, which reminds me of home — and that’s a good thing,” she said.
Larson got her start in senior care at just 3 years old
You could make an argument that Larson’s career in senior services started at a nursing home facility in Franklin when she was just 3 1/2 years old.
“My grandmother would take me to the nursing home and I would dance for the residents, usually for quarters, so probably not always the best way to start, but it was pretty amazing,” Larson said at a meet-and-greet hosted on Aug. 17 by the Elk River Area of Commerce. Larson’s grandmother was an activities director at the nursing home, and her grandfather was the director of environmental services there.
Larson, whose mother was a nurse and father was a police officer, developed a desire to become a nurse as a child. She remembers caring for her sister after she had some health issues and had to be hospitalized.
“When she came home I was her caretaker as her older sister,” Larson said. “It wasn’t a big deal, but I think little things like that were important for me.”
As a teenager, she worked in the laundry and dietary departments at that same Franklin, Nebraska, nursing home.
She later became a certified nursing assistant and received her nursing degree from Metro State University after following her parents to Minnesota. She chose senior care as her career field.
Her career evolved and she eventually became a director of nursing, then a nursing home administrator. She started at Presbyterian Homes as a campus administrator, a post she held for six years. She went on to become a regional director of operations, and eventually took over the vice president of sales and marketing. She did that for nearly three years, and then was promoted to her human resources post that she held for nearly six years.
Here in Elk River, Larson replaces Dan Dixon, who retired in April after 21 years with Guardian Angels. He followed Carol Mills, who was the first president and CEO of Guardian Angels.
“Her stories are still spoken in the hallways,” Larson said. “It’s a wonderful, rich history.”
Larson’s character and work ethic have been on display as she has kept a robust schedule in her first 90 days with participation in the Taste of Elk River, Guardian Angels’ annual Angels & Birdies Golf Tournament, Elk River Area Chamber Leadership Graduation, and the I-94 Chamber Circle of Excellence Awards.
Breath of fresh air
Larson says it has been a breath of fresh air.
“I feel like in these first 90 days I have had more community connections — because that’s how Elk River and the surrounding area work — than I have in the last 20 years,” she said.
Guardian Angels community picnics have given her a chance to connect with the residents and their families in a relaxed setting.
“Guardian Angels is excited to have Traci on board,” Guardian Angels Board Chair Linda Krieger said. “Her unique and vast experience will provide for great insight into the next steps for Guardian Angels. We couldn’t be happier with Traci joining the Guardian Angels family and helping us achieve continued success as we live out our mission and serve the seniors in our community.”
Larson looks forward to working with the community to better serve seniors.
“We’re not a manufacturer where you can shut machines off,” she said. “Making sure we have the right team members and the right number is crucial.”
Guardian Angels’ mission is to provide exceptional health care, housing and supportive services to seniors and their families in the spirit of Christ’s love.
Larson sees the importance of having a community conversation about senior services.
“I’m hoping as we look at the number of seniors turning 65 there becomes a new way of talking about senior care and senior services that is more inclusive and more about ‘Let me learn about this before I get into a crisis and have to make a decision,’ ” Larson said. “I think there’s a cultural piece where some people don’t want to know what happens when they get old. This will have an impact on us as a state and nation.
“The question is how are we going to care for the people who built our roads and our phone systems and our grocery stores and all these amazing things we get to experience because of them. We have an obligation to honor what they have provided in our communities and celebrate them and assure that they’re given the honor and dignity of aging, which isn’t always a terrible process.”
Too often people tend to think of it in that way, Larson said.
“It needs to be more humanized and become a little more real. This is a part of life and who we are, like our small children who are learning to walk and our seniors who are struggling to walk.”
Larson is married to her husband, Jeff, and has three daughters. In her free time she enjoys kayaking, pontoon rides on the lake and travel.
She looks forward to continuing to grow in her community connections so that she and her team can discern how to better serve seniors and is honored to link arms with those at Guardian Angels.
“I am excited to honor the rich history of Guardian Angels and move the mission of providing exceptional health care, housing and supportive services to seniors and their families in the spirit of Christ’s love into the future,” Larson said.