John Swanson headshot
John Swanson

Editor’s Note: McKnight’s Senior Living, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News and McKnight’s Home Care are profiling the McKnight’s 2024 Pinnacle Awards honorees daily in April and May. For additional McKnight’s Pinnacle Awards content, visit this page.

John Swanson turned personal struggle and pain into inspiration after the experience of seeing his father’s freedom of independent movement eliminated upon entering memory care. 

“A lot of freedoms, autonomy, choices, were removed because of safety,” Swanson once told the news publication Lancaster Online. “But it also felt like that didn’t allow our residents to really thrive in the situation.”

The CEO of Willow Valley Development Corp., Swanson was speaking about the reasons behind the community’s new model of dementia care at a 140-resident assisted living community that is expected to open in two years.

The inspiration behind the memory care center came years earlier when he learned about Hogeweyk, a long-term care facility in the Netherlands that mimics a village in which residents are “living” normal, everyday, independent lives in which they are free to roam within a protected community. 

Swanson joined Willow Valley, one of the largest nonprofit continuing care retirement / life plan communities in the country, in 1991 and was promoted to president in 2000. He was named CEO in 2017, and the organization thrived under his leadership, setting a high standard of living and care for residents that is a national model. He also promoted community engagement and in 2019, Willow Valley Communities in Lancaster, PA, donated $10,000 to the county’s public school district to help cover college application fees or items needed to jumpstart a career to high school seniors. 

Before recognizing a calling to long-term care development, Swanson worked with Toll Brothers and also with a national public accounting firm with a specialty in real estate development. 

  • Swanson served on the Urban Land Institute’s 55+ Lifestyle Residential Development Council. 
  • Under his leadership, Willow Valley Communities achieved and maintained industry-leader positioning and a Fitch Ratings “A” rating. 
  • He holds an MBA from the Rutgers University Graduate School of Business and a bachelor’s degree in business and economics from Lehigh University.

The McKnight’s Pinnacle Awards program is jointly administered by McKnight’s Senior Living, McKnight’s Long-Term Care News and McKnight’s Home Care. Honorees were recognized March 21 at a dinner and awards ceremony in Chicago. Omnicare was the Silver sponsor for the 2024 Pinnacle Awards program. Parker Health Group and Sentrics were event sponsors.