'My heart's here': Executive director celebrates 50 years at Elgin senior living facility

Half a century is a long time to work in one place, but Susan Cincinelli says she couldn't imagine it any other way.

Last week, Cincinelli celebrated her 50th anniversary at The Atrium at Oak Crest Residence in Elgin.

"I've always liked old people, and now that I am one, I like them even more," Cincinelli said.

The soon-to-be 75-year-old executive director of the senior living facility started on Sept. 19, 1973, after responding to a newspaper ad for an assistant nurse. Within six months, she was the facility's first activity director. Within a year, she was the administrator. She became executive director in 1980.

Cincinelli said she's never considered doing anything else, anywhere else.

"My heart's here," she said. "I have every opportunity to do every single thing that fulfills me, so there would be no reason to leave."

The senior living community offers assisted and independent living, in addition to adult day care and a trademarked memory care program that Cincinelli developed.

The facility was built in 1904. The Atrium was added in 2000.

Cincinelli said that despite the facility's being nonprofit, she carefully curates and decorates to make people feel like they're at home. Much of what she uses is recycled or donated. But she says it's important that residents and their families feel welcome.

"Let's face it: Having to give up everything you know can't be good, it really can't," she said. "It's hard enough to face the rigors of aging, but add to that having to move to a place with strangers. What we hope to accomplish is to make you feel like this is as good as it can get, we don't intend to replace your home."

To that end, she works to create a family atmosphere with her staff. That task is made easier by having her daughter and three of her grandchildren working there.

Wendy Cincinelli was a year old when her mom took the job in 1973. She practically grew up at Oak Crest.

"It's amazing to work with my mom," Wendy said. "It's fun to see her every day. We often say we wouldn't want to be here without the other one, and I feel like that all the time."

In addition to her work at The Atrium at Oak Crest, Susan Cincinelli is an advocate for education against ageism and has worked on the national level with Leading Age, a community of nonprofit aging services providers and other mission-driven organizations.

"This sounds so corny, but I'm going to say it anyway: I don't think there's anything more important than the end of life," she said. "If it's done properly and if a person is accepted and loved, it's the most rewarding thing in the world."

Even after 50 years, Cincinelli has no plans to retire.

"I want to go out with my boots on," she said. "I may tweak things and be here for smaller periods of time, but I can't ever imagine my life without some involvement at Oak Crest."

  Susan Cincinelli, right, laughs after a comment by her daughter Wendy, center, during a celebration Tuesday for Susan's 50th anniversary at The Atrium at Oak Crest Residence in Elgin. Katie Jones, left, is Wendy Cincinelli's daughter and also works there with her mom and grandmother. Rick West/
  Susan Cincinelli gets a hug from her daughter and granddaughter, who both work with her at The Atrium at Oak Crest Residence in Elgin. Cincinelli celebrated her 50th year there on Tuesday. Rick West/
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