Possibility Unleashed: The 2023 ANCOR Annual Conference
by Dave Turgeon, VERTESS
The story of Good Hope Manor is one that’s easy to get behind. Launched in 2003 by Linda and Chris Witzlib, Good Hope Manor is an intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) company providing residential and day supports to adults via six integrated, community-based group homes around Wisconsin.
Good Hope Manor earned its reputation of providing the highest quality residential care to its clients. The team offers all types of services for mentally handicapped individuals and provides a supportive environment regardless of a client’s medical conditions. Every resident is treated like a member of the family and receives a wide range of services that can include special diet plans, diabetic care with insulating administration, independent living therapy, transportation, entertainment, music and pet therapy, and hospice care.
After many rewarding years of running Good Hope Manor, Linda and Chris decided it was time to begin winding down that chapter of their lives and transition into semi-retirement. They hired an advisor to help them with selling the company, but this group was unable to secure a deal. Once this contract expired, they approached VERTESS and Dave Turgeon, Managing Director of VERTESS, who had spoken with them several years prior about their future plans. Reengaging with VERTESS and Dave turned out to be a wise decision as Dave was able to secure a good price for their company. He also found a buyer that was not interested in acquiring the company’s real estate, which has allowed Linda and Chris to continue generating income by leasing the homes to Good Hope Manor’s new owner.
Chris found some time to reflect on Good Hope Manor’s history and success, how he and Linda knew they found the right buyer, and why VERTESS was the best partner to support them with the transition of their company.
Launching and Growing Good Hope Manor
Chris Witzlib: This business was my wife’s calling. She first entered the I/DD field around 1992 and had her first experience working directly with residents with disabilities around 1996. She helped turn around an I/DD program that was about to close. Linda is amazing at supporting these residents. Some of them are non-verbal, yet she seems to know what they want just by looking at them. It’s kind of a gift.
A few years later, someone working on the Milwaukee County-level said she was so impressed with my wife that if Linda ever built a home and program of her own, the county would have residents for her. I’m more of a numbers guy. After running the numbers, I determined that we could take the chance and start our own company. In May 2003, we purchased a double lot with a big ranch on it, which is the design you want for a group home. We renovated the home, got it to meet Wisconsin’s community-based residential facilities (CBRF) certification, and opened in August of that year. So began Good Hope Manor. Our plan was to build a second ranch on the lot, and these would be the only two homes we would run. But before we even finished building the second ranch, we acquired a struggling group home and turned it around. By 2005, we had three homes filled with residents.
We added a few more homes in the years that followed, acquiring what would be our sixth and final home in 2012. We put a lot of work and energy into the homes we built and remodeled. Linda wanted to make sure the ranches were high-end and perfect for people with disabilities, with wide hallways and doorways, big bathrooms, family rooms, living rooms, and dining rooms so residents had the opportunity to eat together.
As we were growing Good Hope Manor, most of our residents came through Milwaukee County. The county representatives appreciated how great my wife took care of people with developmental disabilities, particularly those with severe medical frailties. These residents were in state-run institutions before they came to us. We put them into home settings and the quality of their lives immediately went improved. Besides the comforts they experienced in the homes themselves, Linda was big on getting our residents into the community as much as possible, whether it be working, going to school, attending church, or participating in a range of programs that were available. She also worked to get our residents’ medications under control. A lot of times, they were over-drugged when they came to us. Linda would get them to the doctor right away and on a path to a more appropriate medication regimen.
From a business perspective, we gambled and it paid off. We filled the homes up with people, so we had a good source of income. Nobody else wanted these individuals but us. It was very self-satisfying for my wife to get these people out of the state institutions and into home settings. She was happy every time we added a new resident.
Pride in the Work
CW: We had a lot of great moments running Good Hope Manor, but none tops improving the lives of our residents.
What’s nice is that we continue to support our residents through Away We Go Transport. It’s a transportation company we started because Linda didn’t like the transportation company options available for our residents. Away We Go provides transportation services to our residents and other entities and individuals in Wisconsin. It’s great to be giving them the high-quality transportation services they need and deserve.
Finding the Right Buyer
CW: Before we partnered with Dave and VERTESS, there were a few other companies that expressed interest in acquiring Good Hope Manor, but we didn’t like their people. It was important for us to like the company and its people if we were going to sell the company because we would be pass along responsibility for our residents. They were always our top priority.
Thankfully, Dave found a company with a strong track record of supporting those with developmental disabilities. It was hard to sell, and my wife had tears as we finalized the transaction, but it was the right decision. We completed the sale on New Year’s Eve of 2020. Despite it being a “COVID year,” we went out on a great note. We had nearly full occupancy and were finishing up a terrific year, despite the pandemic. I feel we passed off the best-running set of six group homes in the country considering the way they were built, run, and kept up and the staff we had in place. We were very happy through the whole process and definitely celebrated on New Year’s Eve.
Working with VERTESS
CW: Dave and VERTESS really were the right partners for us. Dave is very easy to talk to. I can get a little defensive, and there were some questions asked about our company that brought out some emotion in me. Dave was always calming and helped us understand the importance of every question and piece of information requested from us — and there was a lot of information needed. Dave was able to get us multiple offers and complete the sale of the company before the end of 2020, which was our goal.
Looking back, I liked Dave’s approach from the start. He never pressured us at all. He just wanted to help us with whatever we wanted to do. That included bringing on the lawyer that helped get the sale to the finish line and working out good leases on the property we kept. We’re really happy with how everything turned out.
Working with Good Hope Manor
Dave Turgeon: The residents of Good Hope Manor were fortunate to end up under the care of Linda and Chris. They genuinely cared for their clients and employees, which is why it’s not surprising that they were successful with the business. Linda made sure the residents always had what they needed. Chris ensured the company remained on solid financial footing. This allowed them to design great homes for their clients and grow the way they wanted to, which ultimately culminated in them securing a good price for the company.
Good Hope Manor is a model for other I/DD companies while Linda and Chris were the perfect owners and operators of an I/DD business. The industry would benefit from more leaders like them.
Dave Turgeon, CM&AA is Managing Director for VERTESS. He has been fortunate to work for several exceptional companies, contributing in roles that include CEO, COO, and managing growth. Get in touch with Dave by emailing him at [email protected].