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KATHY WALKER, WIFE OF GENESIS FOUNDER MICHAEL WALKER, remembers the snowy night in 1985 like it was yesterday. The 37-year-old father of two dreamed of starting a business that would bring positive change in the healthcare industry and leave the world a better place. So he sat at the Brown Derby and wrote a business plan for Genesis HealthCare. The name Genesis signifies a new beginning and quality of life for senior citizens. Genesis also brought new life to Kennett Square.
“My father was all about community,” says his son Sean. When Genesis outgrew its offices in the building where Liberty Market is now, it would have been more cost-effective to move outside the Borough. But Michael was committed to investing in his adopted hometown, where Kathy had deep roots and where they were raising their children, Sean and Cortney. So he worked with community leaders to develop a proposal. Then he and Borough Council President Kenneth Roberts sealed their mutual commitment to work for the revitalization of Kennett Square with a handshake. Michael didn’t need to move mountains to build the new corporate headquarters and parking garage, but several businesses, homes, and water towers relocated to make way. People trusted Michael, so they collaborated to make possible the building which now bears his name. “Dad approached everything with honesty and integrity,” says Cortney.
“If you have an opportunity to help a community, you should,” Michael said in a 1997 interview.
“Michael was a catalyst, and he had immense vision,” Kathy says. He sought opportunities to make a difference— from requesting that money allocated for lavish Wall Street celebrations be donated instead to the Kennett YMCA to building a corporate headquarters without a cafeteria so employees would patronize local restaurants to lobbying for Medicare in Washington, and starting the organization that would become Historic Kennett Square. “If you have an opportunity to help a community, you should,” Michael said in a 1997 interview.
He was also a family man. “Michael always had time for us,” Kathy says. He was there for homework and swim meets, and he loved being a grandfather as well. “Dad’s very ill,” Sean says, “but he’d be proud to see all this growth.” Today, Genesis is one of the largest providers of skilled nursing care for the elderly in the country—and Kennett Square is thriving.
Most people don’t realize, as they check the time on the historic 1906 clock preserved in the Genesis tower, that an important piece of Kennett Square history also lies beneath the sidewalk at the corner of State and Union. This time capsule, to be opened on September 11, 2098, encapsulates Walker’s creative, forward-thinking thoughtfulness. Perhaps the only thing we can say with certainty about those who will open the time capsule is that they will still be beneficiaries of Michael Walker’s legacy.