Editor’s note: As part of the 40th anniversary of McKnight’s, McKnight’s Senior Living and McKnight’s Long-Term Care News are recognizing 40 notable newsmakers. Each week, the brands will highlight a high-profile leader from the past four decades. Find previously published installments of the series here.

Many middle-class older adults living their golden years in socially engaging retirement communities arguably have one person to thank: John Erickson.

The founder of Erickson Retirement Communities, now Erickson Living, Erickson developed the idea of the retirement community campus back in 1983. The company’s flagship, a former abandoned seminary in Catonsville, MD, grew into the largest continuing care retirement community in the United States by 2000, with 2,500 residents.

His concept (now sometimes referred to as “life plan community”) caught the attention of both the long-term care and financial worlds for its scale and services. Among the innovative offerings available on his campuses: creature-comfort amenities, medical centers staffed by Erickson physicians and a unique 100% refundable deposit policy. In 2008, the Wall Street Journal named him one of 12 people changing retirement.

“He was an absolute pioneer,” said Robert Kramer, co-founder and strategic adviser to the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care. Besides creating a luxury retirement setting for government workers and teachers, Erickson’s legacy includes developing the first approved Medicare Advantage plan, Kramer said. 

Erickson did not stop at housing for middle-market older adults. He also developed Retirement Living TV, a network dedicated to informing and involving those 55 and older. He and wife, Nancy, also founded the Erickson Foundation, which donated $5 million toward the formation of the Erickson School of Aging Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Unfortunately, the company encountered difficult times during the 2008 financial crisis. Erickson stepped down from his post as CEO in 2008, and the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009. After emerging from bankruptcy within a few months, the company was rebranded Erickson Living.

Today, Erickson is enjoying his retirement, spending time in Florida while serving in an advisory capacity to others in the field, including to his son, Mark, a long-term care professional. His namesake company, meanwhile, is stronger than ever. It currently has 20 communities in 11 states and serves 27,000 residents.

Evidently, the idea of a fulfilling, active last life chapter is not going out of style any time soon.

Related Articles