WESTMINSTER -- After four decades of working with retirees, Ronnie Friedman decided to join their ranks.
On Dec. 31, she stepped down as director of Westminster Cares and said good-bye to the friends and colleagues she has gotten to know during her 12 years at the helm. She was replaced by Donna Dawson, who was brought on as assistant director at the end of 2011.
"It was the best job I've ever had," Friedman, 68, told the Reformer on Monday. "It was just perfect and I worked with a lot of really great people. It was hard to leave."
Westminster Cares, started in 1988, is an organization that works with the area's seniors and disabled adults to assist them in remaining healthy and independent in the community.
Friedman told the Reformer she decided it was time to step down because her husband retired a few years ago and the two were looking forward to having an opportunity to travel and "live a slower life." She said a director mainly organizes volunteers to carry out the organization's tasks and help raise funds. She said Westminster Cares is financed by money from the town, fundraising, grants and an annual appeal to Westminster residents.
A New York City transplant, Friedman took the job at Westminster Cares nearly 30 years after starting her career in elderly care at southeastern Vermont's chapter of the Council on Aging (now known as Senior Solutions), which started in Brattleboro and eventually moved to Springfield. She said she was responsible for the nutritional programs at the organization that served Windham and Windsor counties.
"I loved it," she said. "I was just there a long time and it was just time to move on."
Friedman said she especially enjoyed her job at Westminster Cares because it connected her to the town she had called home for so long but knew very little about. Her position enabled her to bond with many residents she had previously never met.
Sanderson, who was replaced as board president by Pete Harrison, said Friedman invigorated Westminster Cares with her love of the job.
"There are so many things to say (about her). She came to us with a wealth of knowledge about seniors," she said. "Ronnie is passionate about serving the elderly in a community with the specific intent that elder people can remain in their community. ... She just grew the agency into the amazing agency that it is today. It has a reputation of being one of the best elderly care agencies in the state."
Sanderson, who still serves on the Westminster Cares Board of Directors, said Vermont is known for its quality elderly care programs.
Dawson, who took over Friedman's job on Monday, said it will be difficult to replace her predecessor.
"She was a beloved and trusted resource and a beloved and trusted person for information about seniors and healthy aging in general," she said.
According to a statement from Westminster Cares, the need to strengthen the organization through fundraisers and grants has coincided with the services and programs it offers. Friedman worked with a group of board members and volunteers to create several successful fundraisers, including the Westminster Cares Garden Tour, which Dawson described as an annual event in which people purchase tickets to four or five private gardens in order to admire their beauty. Friedman was also a vital part in bringing the Strong Living exercise program to the community through Tufts University. Westminster Cares now offers three twice-weekly classes.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.