Macon County General Hospital CEO Dennis Wolford has been in healthcare administration for over 46 years, 32 of those at Macon County General. However, healthcare administration was not his original career. “When I got out of college I went to Washington, D.C. and worked for Congress for two years,” Wolford said. Wolford worked in what is now the General Accountability Office in the late 1960s. “I was there during the riots when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated… I was actually working on a report for Bobby Kennedy when he was assassinated.”
Wolford says he didn’t care for the pace of D.C., and had been considering going into healthcare administration. “After my father died… in 1970, I spent some time around hospitals and I thought, ‘Yeah, I want to get into hospital administration.’” Wolford sent his resume to hospitals in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area, which is where he’s originally from. In May of 1970, he was hired as assistant CEO at Irene Byron hospital in Fort Wayne.
Wolford stayed at Irene Byron for a few years before hearing of an opening at the hospital in his hometown of Kendallville, Indiana as Assistant Administrator. “They had an opening for an assistant administrator and they needed somebody to start the county EMS system, and they wanted the hospital to do it. The CEO said, ‘Would you be interested in that?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, that sounds like a good challenge. I’ve never been in an ambulance.’ I really knew very little about them. But they said, ‘Well, if you can do it, we’ll hire you.’”
Wolford began the challenge in November of 1973 and had until April 1st, 1974 to set up “a full blown, county wide EMS service.” Wolford casually concludes the story with, “So, I did.”
The CEO of the hospital in Kendallville left in 1978, which allowed Wolford to move into the CEO position, where he remained until August of 1984, when he came to Macon County General. “Being that I had lived in Tennessee for a while, I kind of wanted to get back, I liked the weather and everything. Working for QHR, which manages the hospital itself… at that time, they had an opening down here. They had a CEO that wanted to go north, and I wanted to go south, so they switched us.”
Wolford said he had only planned on staying a couple years before moving to another QHR managed hospital, however, he changed his mind after meeting and spending time with the people here. “You don’t find this in every hospital, where there’s such a family oriented atmosphere. You share your triumphs, you share your tragedies with each other. It’s one big family. This is a great community, with great people. I wanted to stay.”
Wolford plans to retire next year, specifically April 28th of next year. “I love this job,” he says, “But I think it’s time to hang it up and enjoy my remaining years in retirement.”
Wolford is quick to tell what he plans to do in retirement. In addition to visiting family in Indiana and other parts of Tennessee, he wants to go back to writing and playing music. While in high school, Wolford was in a rock band called The Illusions. They cut a record and had a song, written by Wolford, to hit #7 on the mid-western charts. The band even had some offers for gigs.
“We were doing pretty well. Our manager came in one time when we were practicing and said, ‘Oh, I got exciting news! A bar in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina… wants you guys to come and play all summer long. They’ll put you up and all that.’… A few of the members of the band were getting ready to go to college, including myself, so we took a vote and decided not to go. The band kind of fell apart soon after that. What’s kind of interesting is, this bar, when we said no, got an unknown band by the name of Alabama and asked them to play,” Wolford said.
Wolford says he still has guitars and keyboards and hopes to get back into writing music. “I haven’t been able to do that for years… I just haven’t had the time. So that’s what I want to do when I retire. I want to go back and play my music… I don’t plan to get bored.”
Wolford is not planning on leaving Macon County. He described the area as his “forever home” and adds that he and his wife plan to be here for the rest of their lives. “It’s been a great career here. This is a fabulous place, it’s a great community. That’s why we want to spend the rest of our time here.”
Reach Kayla Fleming at 615-666-2440.