By Starrla Cray
Thirty-three years ago, Lillie Tesch of rural Watertown started her career at Elim Rehab and Nursing Home in Watertown, earning $3.30 per hour.
It was a drought year, and she needed to purchase hay for the family dairy farm.
“Every hour I worked, I could buy a bale of hay,” she said.
For Tesch, as well as several others, working at Elim has turned into much more than a way to make a few extra dollars.
Elileen Vanderlinde, Pat Schug, Dianne Malberg, Cory Allen, and Annie Davis have also worked at Elim Home for more than 20 years, staying because of the family atmosphere, the great benefits, and the closeness to home.
“I think the biggest reason people stay is the family-style relationships we have with one another,” said Administrator Abbie McDonald, who has worked at Elim 23 years, although not consecutively. After 10 years, she went back to school for a year and a half to earn her administrative license.
When McDonald had the opportunity to come back to Elim, she didn’t hesitate.
“I liked it because it’s close to home, and it’s a small facility,” she said.
Nineteen of Elim’s 103 employees have been with the company for more than 10 years. Having such high employee retention is beneficial for everyone, McDonald said.
“I think that provides better quality of care, and a better quality of life for residents,” she said. “It’s also cost-saving for us to have people who know our policies, know our procedures, and know our residents. It’s very expensive to keep re-educating and retraining.”
Training a new nurse costs about $3,000, and training a nursing assistant costs about $2,000, she said.
Many of Elim’s workers are skilled in multiple departments, McDonald said.
Schug, for example, has worked in several areas throughout her 31 years of employment, and is now the manager of the environmental services department. Malberg, who has 30 years of experience, has done cooking, nursing, and dietary work.
Schug started at Elim at age 16.
“A lot of my friends worked here,” she said. She’s had other business ventures throughout the years, but never left Elim. She would miss the residents too much, she said.
“You get attached to them,” Schug said. “You learn a lot from the elderly too.”
“I miss them when I’m not here,” Tesch agreed. “I even dream about them. We’re one big family.”
“You always come back to Elim, because that’s where your heart is,” Schug added. “It takes a certain person to work here.”
“It’s good working here,” said Vanderlinde, who has been with Elim 38 years.
Allen, a 27-year employee, said she enjoys the opportunities for advancement. She started as an LPN, and later became an RN, assistant director of nursing, and most recently, director of nursing. Now, she is attending classes for her administrative license.
“She has done a lot of education to get to where she is now,” McDonald said.
“Elim supported me and let me raise my children,” Allen said.
“They’ve been very understanding if we need time off,” Tesch added. “Plus, we enjoy each other’s company.”
“We know each other well enough to tease,” said Davis, who has worked in dietary for 20 years. “It’s an open, friendly place. Some of us plan to have beds here.”
“It’s like we’re growing up here and growing old here,” Schug said.
“We’ve grown with the facility,” Tesch said. Most residents used to stay long-term, but now there are more rehab patients. Although the home still has hospice care, there’s been a “major change in focus,” Allen said.
“This is a place to come and get better,” Tesch added.
As for retirement, no one seemed to have considered it.
“I don’t think any of us have talked about retiring,” Schug said.
“The residents can relate to us better because we’re older,” Tesch said.
“I want to work until I’m 70,” she added. “I’m going to work until I’m no longer able.”
“You know what Elim stands for,” Schug said. “Elim backwards is mile. We all go the extra mile here.”
Tesch summed up her experience this way: “I love my work. I love being here with the people I work with and the people I care for.”
“You’re not a number here; you’re a person,” Schug said.
The other employees who have worked at Elim for more than 10 years include Judy Motzko, Mary Hilgers, Cynthia Pierce, Ann Mallak, Denise Heille, Michelle Spooner, Lynn Quast, Tammy Schug, Sharon Fawley, Carol Goetz, Diane Daniels, and Jeannie Schuettpelz.
Elim Home in Watertown is part of a network of care facilities called Elim Care. The mission of the home is to glorify God by serving individuals and communities.
“Then they came to Elim, where there were 12 springs and 70 palm trees, and they camped there near the water.” Exodus 15:27 (New International Version)