Grace Sprenger, Healthcare Visionary and Pioneer
Grace Thompson was born on February 24, 1917 in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. When she was three years old, she lost her mother and only sister during childbirth. Her father, distraught over the death, left Grace to be raised by Grandmother and Grandfather Grubb. She lived with her grandparents and five aunts and uncles.
In 1934, Walt Sprenger, an oilman and partner in the Sprenger Brothers Oil Company asked permission from her Grandparents to drill on their land. During this time Grace was introduced to Walt. Shortly thereafter, Grandfather Grubb arranged for her and Walt to be married. Grace was 17 and Walt was 35.
Grace and Walt moved to Allegan, Michigan where Walt worked for the largest drilling company in Michigan. During this time, Grace gave birth to five children Walt, Ethel, Tony, Donel, and Dan. Tragically, in 1942 Ethel was killed in a car crash.
Although she never graduated from high school and had children to raise, she entered nursing school and received her LPN license in 1943. Grace worked in the Allegan Hospital until 1945 (when the family moved to Wellington, Ohio because of an oil find). While in Wellington, Grace worked as a private duty nurse at Oberlin and Amherst Hospitals. In 1956, Grace and Walt were divorced. Grace, now raising four kids alone, decided to pursue a career in nursing home administration.
In 1957, Grace became the Administrator of the Halks Nursing Home in Oberlin. Using this experience, Grace received a small business loan and built a 26-bed nursing home in Amherst. The Amherst Manor Nursing Home filled in six weeks.
Grace and her staff of three ran the home 24 hours a day. Grace was a nurse, housekeeper, cook and took care of the maintenance of the home.
As the years went by, Amherst Manor began to grow in size and staff. In 1961, Grace needed credit to expand her business; she took on a partner who arranged financing. The partnership arrangement was supposed to be set up with Grace owning 45%, her partner 45%, and the final 10% in a trust, in case there was a problem. However, her partner stole the other 10% leaving Grace a minority ownership in her own nursing home.
Left with no ability to obtain financing, Grace was faced with losing her business. Her generous and loving staff gave their own personal savings to provide the money Grace needed to buy out her partner and save Amherst Manor.
Amherst Manor continued to grow and eventually became a 102-bed nursing facility. In 1973, Grace sold Amherst Manor to her sons Tony and Donel. With the formation of Sprenger Enterprises, Inc. and the help and leadership of third generation Sprenger family, the business continues to strive to provide the highest quality health care options for seniors.
Sprenger Health Care Systems has grown to become a family of eleven rehabilitation and retirement communities located throughout northeast Ohio and Indiana employing a staff of over 1,400 employees, who maintain the same philosophy of care and dedication that was established so long ago by Grace Sprenger. Over the years, her original dreams and ambitions have made it possible for Sprenger Health Care Centers to provide independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing care and rehabilitation therapy for thousands of seniors. Family, friends, staff,residents and community have all benefited from her wisdom and determination.
This progressive businesswoman of the 50’s was definitely ahead of her time.