Changing the World

Fountaingrove Lodge is the nation’s first lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) independent senior community with the option of continuing care services. It was developed by William and Cindy Gallaher, founders of Santa Rosa-based Oakmont Senior Living, a recognized leader in the retirement industry that has developed more than 30 upscale senior communities throughout the western U.S.

Many couples would deem themselves successes to have raised five children. Bill and Cindy Gallaher not only did that, but also founded and built senior community developer/builder Oakmont Senior Living in Santa Rosa, Calif. For good measure, they also founded an international adoption agency.

Married for more than 41 years, the Gallahers brought two daughters into the world and adopted three other children. Along the way, they’ve built more than 40 seniors communities, including assisted living, independent living and continuing care retirement communities. But they have no intention of resting on their laurels. Currently under construction on four sites, they expect to begin construction on as many as a half dozen additional locations this year.

Last year, Oakmont Senior Living captured the 2014 MHN Excellence Award, Best New Development: 55+ for its Fountain Grove Lodge in Santa Rosa, Calif. The development is the nation’s first independent senior community for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, with the option of continuing care services. The prospect of working with a partner didn’t appeal to the Gallahers, but the idea of building for the LGBT community did because they felt it would fill an important social need.

The initial project undertaken in 1978 by Bill and Cindy Gallaher was a small spec house in Davis, Calif. Cindy’s contribution was choosing the finish material, and helping with some construction tasks. Bill handled the rest of the project himself, from drawing the plans to the finish work, Cindy recalls.

“From that small beginning to the current day, we have worked as a team in all our development and construction projects,” she said. “I believe our success, both as a couple and as partners in business, has been rooted in a division of labor, and in the deep respect we have for each other’s strengths.”

Bill’s special strengths are his integrity, drive, ability to identify opportunities in the market, and a keen sense of the financial big picture. His areas of responsibility encompass development, strategic planning, the choice of what types of projects to build and construction management.

Cindy’s distinctive attributes are her people skills and her design and aesthetic sensibilities. “Working with architects, interior design and landscape design are my departments,” she said. “More recently, as we have grown, [it is] also company culture. Both of us share a commitment to very high standards in our product and for our employees. We both have a skeptical view of accepted practices in our industry. [That] attitude compels us to be continually looking for a better way to do almost everything.”

Pivotal step

In the early years of their business, the Gallahers limited themselves to building and selling homes in small subdivisions, and building and selling some small apartment communities. A watershed moment arrived in 1986, when they were offered the opportunity to purchase a 500-lot seniors subdivision called Oakmont on the outskirts of Santa Rosa, Calif., Cindy Gallaher recalls.

“We did not have the capital to purchase it outright,” she remembered. “The previous owner, Nor Burger, structured the sale so that we were able to purchase the lots as we built them out. His generosity and faith in our ability to perform created a platform from which we could leap forward, and was, as far as our business was concerned, a life-changing opportunity. That was our first foray into the senior housing market, and also the origin of the Oakmont name.”

In 1995, the CEO of a small privately held assisted living company whose home they had built asked the Gallahers to develop a seniors community for the company. This proved the couple’s entry into the multi-unit senior sector. “News travels quickly in this industry,” Cindy said. “The lender for this project, Bank Parabas, contacted other operators interested in having new communities built. In that manner we began to find sites and build for both Sunrise and ARV.”

Bill and Sunrise’s Dwayne Clark formed Aegis Assisted Living in 1997, to enable their participation in communities they built. In 2005, the Gallahers sold their interest to Clark, but continued the relationship with Aegis as operator.

“We had one more interim change in operating company to Integrated Senior Living, then decided again to enter the operations business with formation of our own operating company, Oakmont Management Group,” Cindy said. Oakmont Management Group was founded in November 2012.

“Raising five children and weathering 37 years of a growing, and sometimes shrinking, business have not come without difficult times,” she added. “The ability to face these challenges as a united team has helped us survive them.”

Some of the most revealing commentary on the Gallahers comes from residents of communities Oakmont built. “I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Bill and Cindy for the past 10 years, not only as a resident of Varenna, one of their gorgeous communities, but also in business,” said Marilyn Diamond. Varenna is Oakmont’s seven-year-old flagship property, located in Santa Rosa.

“I’ve seen them reach their goals from an idea on paper through fruition,” she said. “Working side by side, they put their heart and soul into all of their projects. I respect them for accomplishing what they set out to do as a couple, and also for their strong values and commitment to their family and those around them. They’re an incredibly complementary and cohesive team.”

Added John Kennedy, a resident of Oakmont’s Fountaingrove Lodge, also in Santa Rosa: “Bill and Cindy Gallaher are a very gracious and engaging couple. I see them here quite often; they are always here. They are friendly and open and easy to talk with.”

Cindy sums up the Gallahers’ success this way. “Both of us find the business of business challenging, creative and rewarding. Working together has been a great source of pleasure and satisfaction.”