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At The Gatesworth, everything only gets better with age. The senior living community celebrates 30 years, and a look-back over those three decades paints a clear picture of the constants that have made this place thrive. For the past 30 years, the three owners, and executive director Martha Kessel, have prioritized the independence of its guests, showing how deep The Gatesworth’s roots run in the St. Louis community.

“At the time, it was an out-of-the-box concept,” says co-owner David Smith. “There were a number of threads that wove into [the conception of The Gatesworth]. From my perspective, I had observed the tremendous benefits and complete change in lifestyle that was being offered to people on the affordable-housing side. Why couldn’t [we] do that for people who didn’t need subsidized housing or who were in a position to do private-pay? We created a place that we would like to live in.”

Smith describes how the three owners, all in their thirties at the time, came together to create the senior living community: “Charlie [Deutsch] was a residential builder and I was practicing law. It took us a year to acquire the property and roughly a year to build the place. In between getting financing and getting started, we realized the extent and complexity of what we were doing. We wanted somebody who had strong management skills and a construction background. That was when Bob Leonard entered.”

At first, Leonard, whose background was in construction, believed his time at The Gatesworth was temporary. At the end of his contract, however, it was clear to all parties that he was a natural fit with the company. “They asked me to take over management,” Leonard remembers.

“We do all of our own construction, which was my expertise in the beginning. In 1994, when we built our first addition, [David and Charlie] made me a partner. I manage the operation of all of our communities on a day-to-day basis. My expertise is now in operations and construction. Charlie’s is in development, design and financing. And David is nationally known for his ability to help people market and lease senior living properties.”

Now, 30 years later, industry people worldwide are inspired by The Gatesworth’s concept and use it as a model for their own communities. “Our core value is choice and opportunity,” Smith notes. “We treat people with respect and as autonomous human beings. For example, rather than including meal plans, we have three restaurants [with à la carte menus]. You can choose any one [of these] or you can go out to eat or you can have room service or you can cook for yourself. Our operating philosophy at The Gatesworth is this: The answer is ‘yes.’ What is the question? It is the idea of independence.”

Leonard agrees. “We all had the same vision,” he adds. “The same goal to be more [about] quality over quantity and to build the best operation that we could. We’re focused right here in the heart of St. Louis. We have 700-plus employees on our campus and they all greet us by our first names. We all feel part of the same team, with the same goal of providing outstanding service to our residents each and every day.”

The personal connections that the founders have with team members and residents foster a community where each person feels valued. That phenomenon is fueled by an unchanging philosophy, which is to understand what people need to feel at home in their surroundings.

“Feedback from customers has driven us over the years,” Smith explains. “The depth and breadth of our staff and venues within The Gatesworth give us a unique opportunity to offer a range of programs, services and amenities that are unmatched. It is an ongoing investment in the property and the community.”

Three decades later and the owners still agree: offering choices is the key to care. It is this practice that makes one decision for residents an obvious one. To them, The Gatesworth is home.

The Gatesworth, One McKnight Place, St. Louis, 314-993-0111, thegatesworth.com

LN's special content writer has a love for all things beautiful, from people trying to change the world for the better to fashion and beauty to picturesque places found around the globe.