Daphne Gulick: Food Lover, Leader

In a kinder and gentler time, (1910 to be exact) the fraternal order of Freemasons established the Masonic Village in Elizabethtown, Pa., as a self-sufficient community. Today, the facility, set on 1,400 acres of orchards, cornfields and formal gardens about an hour-and-a-half drive from Philadelphia, is home to about 1,400 residents, including those in the healthcare facility, assisted-living area, residential apartments (without kitchens) and retirement homes (with kitchens), as well as 15 head of cattle.

The chickens and pigs are gone, but the cows are a living reminder of the sustainable lifestyle pursued here in the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country in days gone by.

As times have changed, the Masonic Village, now a continuous care retirement community (CCRC), has embraced modern technology including dietary management software as well as advanced meal production and delivery systems, in good measure thanks to the efforts of Daphne Gulick, senior director of food services, and her staff.

But the farm-to-table concept never went entirely out of style: Home-grown peaches and apples brim from baskets on the breakfast buffet in season; apple cider is produced on-site and sent off to be bottled and pasteurized (then sold locally or on the community's Web site); and fresh flowers, grown and arranged by the greenhouse crew, provide a riot of color within the various dining locations throughout the year.

Gulick's talent for adapting to her environment, her innate love of food and her team leadership skills have allowed her to seamlessly transition the dining services department into the 21st-century without losing sight of the human factor. Where others see challenges, Gulick sees opportunities.

Traveler: "I came to the United States from Fu-Jen University in Taiwan, where I was a home economics major specializing in quantity food prep, in order to earn my master's degree in institutional management at Texas Woman's University in Denton," she explains. "The love of food has always been in me. I'm a gourmet diner, I'm just very good in eating food, and playing with people's minds when it comes to food."

"At this moment in time, I look at myself as a weaver," she continues. "Artists have a vision, they weave it all together to get a result. People (my staff of 270 in Elizabethtown, 420 in all, including three other sites I oversee) are threads; I weave them together. Results are an everyday accumulation of effort and we can do everything we put our minds to."

Creating efficiencies: In 1987, three years prior to Gulick's arrival at the Masonic Village, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA), was the challenge that all long-term care facilities in the country had to address. She found her "new" 1910-era facility provided an abundance of opportunities, chief among them the need to be in compliance with all the new regulations under OBRA's Federal Nursing Home Reform Act, the first major revision of the federal standards for nursing care since the creation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965.

Gulick was hired as foodservice manager in 1990, became director in 1993 (the same year the youngest of her three children was born) and was promoted to senior director in 2002. "Creating more efficiency was my task for many years," she says. "Previously, likes and dislikes were handwritten on a day-to-day, meal-to-meal basis, then that information had to be tallied and sent to the production kitchen several hundred yards away. Meals were shipped (at the time there were 450 of them) three times a day. It was like a giant catering operation."

Tech first: Today, Gulick quickly points out that she and her team don't do more with less, but rather "do more by being more efficient," using technology as their first approach. They've had ample practice over the past five years as Masonic Village acquired three additional locations, one near Pittsburgh and two in the Philadelphia area. Now some of the units share menus while retaining their own local touch. "We changed from hand-written meal tickets to dietary software in order to reduce human error," she notes. "Decisions are no longer made on the line since the ticket is printed out ahead."

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