A founder, and a keeper

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Howard Washburn, co-founder of LeadingAge
Howard Washburn, co-founder of LeadingAge
At LeadingAge's 50th anniversary celebration in October, Howard Washburn was applauded, thanked and much sought after.

The 89-year-old jokes that part of the recognition is from having lived longer than many other LeadingAge founders. But the humble New Jersey native's place in history was assured when he joined other faith-based nonprofit providers at the Continental Hotel in New York City in 1961 to create what became the American Association of Homes for the Aging (which later inserted “and Services”).

“There was a small group of us that said, ‘We need to have an interfaith group,'” he recalls. “It was an exciting time.”

But AAHSA was only the beginning for Washburn, whose career took him to sites that included CC Young Memorial Home in Dallas, the General Board of the Methodist Church, Methodist Homes of New Jersey, and Otterbein Homes in Ohio. He spent 25 years working at Otterbein, and now lives on the St. Marys property there with his wife, Barbara.


Donald Gilmore, who recently retired as president and CEO of Otterbein, calls Washburn “a prince of a person.”
They met in the mid-1960s, and Washburn became a champion of Gilmore, encouraging him to get his master's degree.

“He's been the primary mentor in my life, besides my parents,” Gilmore said.

Washburn received national recognition for creating programs that highlighted resident expression and choice.
“He put programs together that had never been put together before when he was at Methodist Homes in New Jersey,” Gilmore notes. “He's passionate, and compassionate to a fault.”

Washburn was raised by his grandparents in New Jersey. He said they showed him that “the only thing that counts is relationships, relationships to each other and to God.”

He enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school in 1941. He served in the South Pacific as a combat engineer, and then went to Simpson College on the GI Bill.

He was called to seminary at Drew University and served as a pastor of churches in Iowa, New Jersey and Kansas.  

After retirement, he and his wife hit the road, traveling the country in an RV in the mid-1990s. His family includes two sons, John and Jim (a third son, Mark, died in May). He enjoys golf and fishing and roots for baseball's Chicago Cubs.

He consults for Otterbein and says the hardest part of heading toward his 90s is losing friends and the potential for loneliness and boredom.

Washburn says he believes that working in faith-based aging is a calling.

“I feel there was a religious reason for doing it, I hope for everyone, but certainly for me,” he says. Jesus taught and healed, and “we're healing members.”

“You have to find a way to make ministry available to people,” he concludes.

Resume

1941
Joins the U.S. Army, serves as combat engineer in the South Pacific

1950
Graduates from Simpson College, Indianola, IA

1954
Obtains seminary degree from Drew University Theological School, Madison, NJ

1961
Helps found the American Association of Homes for the Aging (now LeadingAge)

1966
Director of services to the aging for the General Board of Hospitals and Homes (later the United Methodist Association)

1971
Delegate to the White House Conference on Aging