Home Office: Jack Vetter – Right Opportunities Came at the Right Time
Reprinted with Permission – New Horizons the monthly publication of the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging.
By: Nick Schinker, Contributing Writer
Jack Vetter is a caring man who considers everyone to be his neighbor, whether they live next door or halfway around the world. As a young man strengthened by his faith and the values instilled by his parents, Vetter had worked a variety of jobs in and around his home of Bassett in the Sandhills of western Nebraska when an unusual opportunity presented itself. It was the mid-1960’s, at a time when nursing homes were first being built in the state as alternatives to the old “county poor farms.” A friend knew of an opening as the administrator of a nursing home in Valentine, Neb., and suggested Vetter try for the job. Though he had no experience in the industry, Vetter got the position – and it changed the course of his life forever.
Today, Vetter is the chairman and CEO of Vetter Health Services, Inc., a company he and his wife, Eldora, founded in 1975 which owns and/or operates 32 long-term care facilities in five states. The couple has channeled a portion of their success in caring for older adults into the Vetter Foundation, which benefits charities and mission-based organizations that serve people around the world, as well as working to improve and support the quality of education in health care in the United States. For example, the foundation has helped the Water for the World organization, for which Vetter was a founder and is currently a member of the board of directors; construct nearly 100 water wells throughout Kenya in Africa, and to establish a non-denominational Bible college in Ethiopia. “We have been blessed beyond words,” Vetter says, reflecting on his life in Elkhorn, Neb., headquarters of Vetter Health Services, “and we believe that giving generously will always come back to you.”
Jack Vetter grew up on a ranch near Bassett, Neb., with his two sisters. His father, Virgil, was a “builder and innovator” who worked in a blacksmith shop and was a cattle rancher while renting out the farmland that is still owned by the family. AS a youth, Vetter learned the meaning of hard work, helping do chores, milk cows, and drive the tractor. “I was never afraid of work,” he says. “I enjoyed being busy and I was quite active. I didn’t’ walk from Point A to Point B. I ran.” He and Eldora were members of two Assembly of God Churches and met as teenagers the day in 1951 they were baptized in the water of Pine Creek. They were married June 6, 1954. Like his father, Vetter worked for a time in a blacksmith shop. He also sold Ford cars, worked in manufacturing for International Harvester, as a yard manager for a livestock company, and for a feed and grain company.
He recalls the 1960s as a time when nursing homes were being built throughout western Nebraska. A friend, Bernie Correll, was an administrator for a nursing home in Ainsworth and told Vetter of an opportunity at the Pine View Manor in Valentine. “One day, Bernie said to me, “Why don’t you become a nursing home administrator?” Vetter recalls, “I thought he was crazy. I was working in patched jeans for a feed and grain company.” In 1966, Vetter took advantage of the opportunity and became the administrator in Valentine, soon discovering he enjoyed the job. “Two years later, the same company wanted a director of operations,” he says. “They had moved the headquarters from Ainsworth to Omaha, and they gave me the chance to take that position.” Vetter says he wasn’t sure why he was being led in that particular career direction, but he was always willing to listen. “Looking back, the right opportunities come along at the right time,” he says, “and I was bold enough, brave enough, to take hold of those opportunities.”
In 1975, he and Eldora purchased their first nursing home, taking out a second mortgage on their home to help manage the $28,000 down payment. As they grew their business, the Vetters had a desire to build their first nursing home, a 60-bed facility in Grand Island. “The early homes we saw weren’t designed very well.” He says. “The owners cut corners, the rooms were too small, and they put two to three people in every room. They always said it cost too much to do it any other way. We felt that we were never going to sell our buildings, so why not do it right the first time?”
Beginning with the Grand Island facility, Vetter shied away from what had been done before. “I wanted to take a blank sheet of paper and design something that was attractive, functional, and would be a place where people would live in dignity,” he says. “To this day, we don’t compare ourselves with anyone else. We set the standards.” Buildings are only one aspect of what distinguishes Vetter Health Services, Vetter says. “People are another element,” he says. “We have always believed that if we set a high standard with our mission, our vision, and our values, and set realistic goals to reach that level, our team members will work toward it.” Years ago, the Vetters wrote their mission, “Dignity in Life, “along with vision and values statements, which he says still hold true today:
• Quality Life: We will create a living environment that radiates love, peace, spiritual contentment, dignity, and safety while encouraging personal independence.
• Quality Care: We will dedicate ourselves to provide personalized care and services that achieve extraordinary results and exceed the expectations of those we serve.
• Excellent Teams: We will select and develop team members who radiate warmth, compassion, and respect while skillfully performing their duties.
• Outstanding Facilities: We will develop buildings and grounds that enhance quality of life and are recognized as attractive landmarks in their community.
• Quality Reputation: We will be known for promoting relationships of trust, confidence, and loyalty through the quality of our services, the honesty of our people, and the involvement in our community.
• Stewardship: We will be responsible stewards of our resources to serve our residents, ensure the long-term financial stability of the company, reinvest in our people and facilities, and pursue growth opportunities.
“One of our goals is to control the “revolving door” with team members this is common in many other nursing homes.” Vetter says. “That is why we have worked hard to build a culture where people not only want to come and work for us; they want to keep working for us.”
Since it was formed in 1992, the Vetter Foundation has worked to improve conditions for people in foreign countries and to create and enhance health care training programs here at home. “My wife and I always attended church, and missions have been a part of that relationship,” Vetter says. “We have always believed in tithing. When we started our company, we paid our bills but we didn’t really make any money. Then once we did, we wanted to be able to manage it in a way that would benefit others. So we set up the foundation and started putting our 10 percent there to go to mission work and toward scholarships for nursing.” In addition to funding the nearly 100 Water for the World well-boring projects, each of which benefits from 1,000 to 5,000 people in remote African villages, and establishing the Bible College in Ethiopia that bears their names, the Vetters support nearly 50 children each month through the Mission of Mercy/One Child Matters program. “When we do something benevolent,” he says, “we don’t want it to be something that is spent right now and gone. We want it to help people over and over again.”
An active hunter and fisherman, at age 81 Vetter still comes to work each day. “I’m here because I want to be, not because I have to be,” he says. “I have a great leadership team. I could be out the door tomorrow for any length of time and not worry.” Of all his work, Vetter says he is most proud of the company he and his wife have built. “I think we have the finest set of nursing homes in the country,” he says. “That gives me great satisfaction. And, because of our success in business, we have been able to benefit a growing number of people through the Vetter Foundation.”
People the Vetters consider as their neighbors – even if they live halfway around the world.