Treating the Whole Person: Glencroft erases stigma of modern living centers

BY Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

When Glencroft Center for Modern Living underwent physical and theoretical facelifts three years ago, CEO John Wenzlau didn’t realize the impact it would have on the senior housing market.

“We did a reinvention,” says Wenzlau, who has worked there for eight years. “We needed to change of perspective of people who needed the services we provide.”

Even in the late 2010s, the stigma of senior living was negative. Wenzlau and his staff turned it around.

The “modest buy-in community that was struggling” turned into a continuum of care retirement community (CCRC) with amenities needed for an aging community.

The well-rounded Glencroft Center for Modern Living was founded in the early 1960s by Sarah Ruth, a local pastor’s wife. The Glendale facility offers independent and assisted living, memory and long-term care, along with home health services.

Residents remain in the same 40-acre community as their health care needs evolve. Glencroft Center for Modern Aging is Arizona’s CCRC.

“They’re reluctant to move into a senior place for a variety of reasons,” he says. “They think it’s a last stop in their journey. That is not what we are about. I put together a program with a fellow I hired out of the hospitality industry. We wanted to create a place to come where people can thrive in the end years of their lives.”

Glencroft provides standard services like meals, housekeeping and transportation, but activities are what makes the center.

“Everyone has a modified workout area,” he says. “But we needed to take it a step further and take a holistic approach.”

In 2019, Wenzlau and Vice President of Operations Steve Heller created the faith-based ZoeLife, which helps Glencroft residents maintain a healthy, active lifestyle and achieve and preserve a higher quality of life. Whole-person wellness helps people reshape themselves on multiple levels. Each area is extremely important and plays a key role in overall well-being.

“We use six pillars — spiritual wellness, emotional wellness, physical wellness, social wellness, intellectual wellness and vocational wellness — and we make it a complete approach to being well,” Wenzlau says.

Residents learn about estate planning, coping with grief and anxiety, fall prevention, volunteer opportunities, medical benefits, nutrition, hearing loss, dementia, fitness, prayer and relaxation techniques, communication skills and other areas relevant to their age and personal circumstances.

Amenities include swimming, walking paths, massage and chiropractic services, a fully equipped performance (fitness) center, a smoothie bar, year-round events and activities, pastoral support, healthy food choices and fine dining, as well as opportunities to give back to their community through volunteerism.

The ZoeLife Parkinson’s Immersion Program (PIP) is tailored to maximize individual physical and cognitive capabilities and quality of life.

Stroke survivors may participate in the ZoeLife Stroke Immersion Program (SIP) to supplement physical, cognitive and speech rehabilitation efforts.

A team of professionals, including therapists, dieticians, counselors and program administrators, work together to develop tailored programs to meet individual goals and potential.

“We offer fitness classes, worship services and even adult education classes at Glencroft University,” Wenzlau says.

“We have five lectures this spring semester,” he says. “We tackle subjects like depression, which so many 80- and 90-year-olds have.

“ZoeLife and these classes have made a huge difference in perceiving their lifestyle, compared to maybe when they got here. We’re really excited about that. It’s been well received, and people are participating and noticing a difference.”

Active in the community

Wenzlau is active in the senior living community at large. Fluent in German, French and English, Wenzlau has 40 years’ experience in U.S. senior living and housing industry.

To spread positive words about the industry, he is the co-producer of “Successful Aging,” a Phoenix-based independent radio talk show. He strives to help adults ages 65 and older to maximize their quality of life.

“Successful Aging” airs at 11 a.m. Tuesdays on Independent Talk KFNX 1100 AM. For more information, call 623-847-3047.

“I hope to be a shining light for providing people access around the Valley to information they need,” he says.

“We’ve been running every Tuesday. We have guests from all over the country. Yesterday, we had a professor from Midwestern University talking about Alzheimer’s.

“We stream it live on Facebook every week at the same time. That’s giving back to the community, which we really, really like.”

He is also an adjunct professor at the Keller Graduate School of Management in Phoenix and an adjunct instructor at Mesa Community College.

Wenzlau worked as an executive director and regional director of Brookdale from June 2000 to April 2004. His experience also includes three years as executive director at Emeritus and 10 years at Agenor Partners LLC as president.

He’s been with Friendship Retirement Corp., which owns Glencroft, since February 2014.

“When I came to Glencroft, I had pent-up ideas from 30 years in the for-profit segment,” he says. “It’s been a blessing to be here.

“On the flip side, I’m doing this for my mom and dad. My dad died 20 years ago, and my mom is 95. She’s not interested in moving into a senior place.

“The baby boomers are coming along. With the center, it gave me the first step at looking at the future. We want complete services for a generation that believes more so in exercise and healthy eating. We want to be attractive to baby boomers.”