John Diffey Made a Difference

By Molly Kavanaugh

As President and CEO of The Kendal Corporation for 24 years, John guided, inspired and mentored staff and residents at Kendal at Oberlin and the company’s 12 other affiliates, located in eight states.

Now John is on a “farewell tour,” visiting each community before he retires next month.

“Every Kendal community has happened not because of a map on the wall with pins in it – there’s no such map. Every one has happened because a group said, ‘We desperately need a community in our area, will you help us?’” John told an Oberlin audience Monday night.
The robust crowd greeted John by holding up placards with his photograph and the message, “You have rubbed off on Kendal in a BIG way.”

John Shares Warmth and Passion for Kendal with Residents

Kendal residents at the ball gameArdith Hayes, president of the Kendal at Oberlin Residents Association, told the audience that three days after she and her partner moved to Kendal from Chicago, they were invited to have lunch with the “top enchilada,” who was visiting.

Listening to John speak with passion and warmth about Kendal, and responding to his genuine interest in their lives, was a watershed moment for the couple. “We knew we could trust this for ourselves,” she said.

What Makes Kendal Successful?

John summarized the not-for-profit’s success as a leading provider of retirement communities and services with four words, all beginning with G:

  1. Goodness, outlined in the “Values and Practices” document, based on Quaker thoughts and practices;
  2. Governance, modeled on a federal-style system with vested power spread throughout the community;
  3. Growth, both in terms of bricks and mortar and resident, staff and board development;
  4. Generosity, experienced from the welcoming atmosphere, volunteer commitment and philanthropic spirit.

While visiting the Kendal community in Lexington, Virginia, a resident suggested John add a 5th G – gaiety, found among residents living an abundant life.

John said he hopes to someday experience all these attributes as a resident of a Kendal or Kendal-like community with his wife, Martha.

John and Barb - stage - loresOberlin CEO Barbara Thomas praised John for being a model of leadership and a voice of firm conviction and confidence. Barbara presented him with a couple of handmade gifts, including a decorative wooden box, made by resident Sam Goldberg, a retired mathematics professor who had never used a wooden lathe before coming to Kendal.

“This is a time to explore,” she told John.

The Start of a New Ball Game

First Pitch - John DiffeyThe following night John got such an opportunity in nearby Avon. He threw out the first pitch at the Lake Erie Crushers baseball game, cheered on by several dozen Kendal residents and staff. It was a good game, with the Lake Erie Crushers scoring a come from behind victory and winning 5-4 over the Schaumburg Boomers.