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Eureka’s Maple Lawn Homes celebrates a century of care

by Laurie Pillman | Photo by Ron Johnson |
A building and front yard

It’s easy to find Maple Lawn Homes CEO Jeremy LaKosh. Just look for the man everyone waves at.

“People come in, they know who I am. They know who some of my staff are. They know some of the residents that live here.”

That approachability is a big part of what has helped LaKosh change Maple Lawn’s trajectory in the last few years. Today it’s a well-maintained and sustainable independent living community that just celebrated its centennial, but as recently as seven years ago, the organization was struggling, he said.

Maple Lawn Homes opened in 1922 as a Mennonite retirement community. When LaKosh joined the organization in 2015, it also included a childcare center, nursing home and low-income housing accommodations. While that diversity stemmed from necessity, it was weighing the retirement community down.

Maple Lawn residents Guilford Zook (left) and Bob Harnish gather to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the retirement community at Liberty Bible Church

“The Mennonite community and the folks that started this organization and kept it going believed that you should receive quality of care at the end of life … no matter what your economic needs are,” he said. That worked well with volunteer staffing that allowed the organization to keep costs low and still deliver high-quality care.

The Mennonite retirement community grew steadily and branched into nursing home care in the 1960s when people began to live longer but required more assistance. In the 1980s, a childcare center was started to offer services for residents’ grandchildren and staff members’ children. New pieces were added as residents’ needs expanded, but changing government regulations required increasingly more resources, putting a massive strain on the organization’s finances. As a nonprofit, Maple Lawn was expected to raise funds for capital projects. As a service organization, it was trying to keep costs low for residents on fixed incomes. Major increases in staffing costs hit the hardest.   

“By 2015, every single employee that worked in the childcare center had to have not only a high school degree but … early childhood education credit hours at an associate level. This was a Mennonite retirement community. The women that worked in the childcare center at the very beginning were mothers, farm wives, secretaries at churches. We couldn’t hire any of them.”

When LaKosh came to the organization as chief financial officer in 2015, the organization had reached a pivotal point. He and then-CEO James T. Sommer had some difficult decisions to make. 

“I said, you know, we gotta start meeting with the residents and telling them what’s going on,” LaKosh remembers. “We had town hall meetings to discuss with residents exactly what the problems were. And with this group, we had a quarter of a million dollar hole that we needed to fill.”

A man in front of a small home
Maple Lawn Homes CEO Jeremy LaKosh shows a model home

Sommer and LaKosh let the residents vote on whether to raise service fees or reduce services. The residents decided almost unanimously to raise fees and keep their services. With half of the deficit covered, Sommer and LaKosh looked to reduce overhead. 

While the apartments and childcare center were doing well, they didn’t fall within the original mission. The nursing home was absorbing the profits from the rest of the organization. The tough decision was made to close the childcare center, sell the nursing home and apartments, and refocus on independent living for seniors. By 2017, the organization was back to being financially stable.  

Today, the cottages sit along newly paved roads. Residents can rent month to month or utilize a life lease that operates like a reverse mortgage for units ranging from one to three bedrooms. The childcare center has been remodeled into an activities center where residents can enjoy meals, meetings and live entertainment. More improvements are coming. 

As for LaKosh, he puts relationships first. Originally from Ohio, he grew to appreciate Eureka while attending college locally. When he returned, he wanted to invest in the community. Both he and his wife take part in the Rotary Club and volunteer for local events. Those connections with small-business owners have been vital to Maple Lawn. 

“I work very well with companies that have only one, two or three employees,” he said. “They’re showing up, they’re doing stuff on time, and they’re doing a great job.” 

It’s clear that LaKosh is committed to keeping both Maple Lawn Homes and Eureka stable and thriving. At the end of its centennial celebration in July, participants were asked to share a favorite memory of Maple Lawn Homes and a blessing or prayer for the future.

“I am looking forward to seeing what those are,” said LaKosh. “What do you have to look forward to? What’s the blessing? I want to know what they want from this organization and … hoping that we can meet those needs.” 

Laurie Pillman

Laurie Pillman

is an author and freelance writer/editor, based in Peoria.
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