Profile: Ruta Kadonoff

Ruta Kadonoff, Executive Director, Pioneer Network
Ruta Kadonoff, Executive Director, Pioneer Network

Studying Lithuanian was a large part of Ruta Kadonoff's Saturday mornings while growing up in Connecticut. One of three girls born to native Lithuanians, her parents left the country during World War II and immigrated to the U.S. from London in 1960.

“Being part of a shared community and cultural background shaped my identity as a person,” the Pioneer Network Executive Director says. “It gave me a real sense of mission.”

Her parents, who eventually owned a hotel, instilled the values of “hard work and high expectations,” she reflects.

“Any immigrant experience or family, you hear about what a person wants for their kids. While it's not unique to immigrants, they wanted us to go farther and achieve more,” she notes. “There was a big focus on education.”

That pursuit led her to Catholic University on an “awesome [archdiocesan] scholarship,” which paid for four full years of tuition. Her first job was working for Lithuanian Catholic Religious Aid, and when she started to know the world of healthcare administration, she returned to school for a master's degree. At Abt Associates, she began a dive into long-term care analysis.

“I worked on some qualitative data collection and prospective payment, and got exposure to the long-term care world there,” Kadonoff, 49, recalls. “I did a lot of site visits and interviews. I quickly saw that there were some amazing people working in a broken system.”

She left Abt for LeadingAge in 2000 and six years later she joined The Green House project, where she worked with Anna Ortigara, RN, MS, FAAN, who is now a PHI consultant.

“Here's what I was blown away by: She's a strategic thinker,” Ortigara says. “She's a visionary in that she can say, ‘What do we do to get us there?' She also was extremely creative as we created materials.”

Kadonoff's love of making a difference is notable, says Susan Ryan, senior director at The Green House Project.

“She was always willing to push the status quo,” Ryan says. “She inspired me, and there was a kinship — we are cut from the same cloth. And there was a love being around her.”

Kadonoff was chosen in January to be the next leader of the Pioneer Network, noted previous executive director Lynda Crandall, who was part of the candidate search team. 

“It was quite clear who really rose to the top,” Crandall says. “She's passionate. She has a profound desire to make changes to benefit and help elders in our country.”

In addition to her husband, David, and college-age stepdaughter, Samantha, Kadonoff has three cats: Heidi, Karma and Tigger. An outdoor enthusiast, Kadonoff and her husband love the coast of Maine and plan to relocate there this year. Another hobby is photography, which she likes to combine with hiking. But a huge focus in her life right now is expanding Pioneer's impact.

“It's frustrating more organizations haven't embraced systematic culture change, and I hope I bring perspective and knowledge in a way that drives more rapid change in the field,” she says. “What I really want to make my goal is pushing the envelope.”