Thomas Slemmer, AAHSA Board Chairman: Modesty's his policy
Don't expect much fanfare when Thomas Slemmer ascends to the chairman's post for the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. He is not one to revel in the spotlight.Instead of emphasizing his own accomplishments, the 60-year-old Slemmer would rather talk about the organization he has worked for since 1975 – Columbus, OH-based National Church Residences. Founded in 1961 by Presbyterian minister John Glenn, NCR specializes in the development, construction and management of housing units designed to serve low-income elderly and families.
Retired NCR board member Bill Blaine has known Slemmer for more than 30 years and says modesty is one of his most prominent traits.
"There's more to Tom than meets the eye, but he doesn't brag about his experiences," Blaine said. "He's a guy who has been dedicated to one organization for so long and has been so involved that he hasn't had the time to go out and toot his own horn. That's to be admired."
In typically humble Slemmer fashion, he won't elaborate on his experiences piloting an attack helicopter pilot for the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He will provide facts, however: He enlisted in 1967, served a four-year stint, attained the rank of chief warrant officer and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross.
The son of an auto body mechanic and a nurse's aide, Slemmer came from a working-class background in the rural central Ohio community of Upper Sandusky. His parents instilled in his brother, sister and himself a strong work ethic and an emphasis on the value of education, he said.
After completing his military service, he attended The Ohio State University, earning both bachelor's and master's degrees in community planning. He worked for the university briefly before finding his calling with NCR.
Slemmer says he was particularly impressed with how Glenn arranged to buy the Appalachian ghost town of Waverly, OH, for the purpose of turning it into a retirement center known as Bristol Village. After witnessing Glenn's success, Slemmer knew he had found his own calling.
"What I find attractive about the profession is that it combines a challenging business environment with making a difference in people's lives," he said.
During Slemmer's tenure with NCR, the organization has grown from 50 employees to 1,900. He became company CEO in 1988 and now oversees more than 250 affordable housing properties and 25,000 residents in 28 states and Puerto Rico.
The company is a 25-year AAHSA member and Slemmer has been an active participant during that period. Besides serving on the 24-member AAHSA board of directors, he also is former chairman of the development corporation and a member of the housing committee.
As an association representing nonprofit operators, AAHSA's role is to provide its members with a solid governance structure based on solid business principles, Slemmer said.
"Otherwise, you'll sputter because you will continue with resources that aren't sustainable," he said. "Resources must always be plowed back into the organization to make it stronger. As an industry, we know what we're good at, what we're passionate about and what our resources are — and there is an intersection where they will meet in the future."
Slemmer has been with NCR nearly as long as he's been married to his wife, Jody, a teacher of emotionally challenged students. They married in 1972 and have three grown children: Christa, 28, a nurse; Nathan, 26, a jazz guitarist; and John, 22, a computer engineering student at Ohio State.
When he's away from the office and AAHSA matters, Slemmer says he and his wife like to go hiking and bird watching. One of the couple's favorite locations? Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a noted breeding ground for the sandhill crane. And another place where Slemmer can avoid the limelight.
Resume of Thomas Slemmer
1967 - Enlists in U.S. Army. Flies attack helicopters in Vietnam
1973 - Earns bachelor's and master's degrees in community planning from The Ohio State University
1975 - Meets Rev. John Glenn. Joins National Church Residences as community development planner
1988 - Becomes president and CEO of NCR
1990 - Testifies before the House and Senate Appropriations committees on senior housing needs. Also appears before Congress in 1996, 2000 and 2001
1995 - Receives the Distinguished Service Award from AAHSA
2007 - Becomes AAHSA chairman