Nancy Louraine helped build Turnstone into community asset

April 10th, 2018

By Blake Sebring | News-Sentinel

After working at Turnstone for 25 years — 20 as the organization’s CEO — Nancy Louraine was shoveling snow on a back sidewalk a few years ago when she realized she simply didn’t want to do the job anymore.

“It had nothing to do with the place,” she said. “I was just tired. We had done a lot of growth during those 25 years and went through a lot of capital campaigns and a lot of construction projects. I just didn’t have the fire in my belly anymore, and it was a disservice to the organization because they needed that fire.”

As Turnstone celebrates its 75th anniversary, it’s amazing to look back at how far the organization has come. It is also amazing to consider that it has had only four chief executive officers, and they made the organization what it is today. The two things work in tandem.

Turnstone started with bedside teaching as the Allen County Society for Crippled Children in 1943 with Betty Dane as its first volunteer and executive director. Children with disabilities were not being educated so teachers from the schools went into the homes. Then Dane helped form the Hanna Homestead School in 1947, eventually moving into a small home on Fairfield in 1962. The current property, 3320 N. Clinton St., was purchased in 1976, and all the programs combined into one location at what was formerly the Firefighters Reception Hall.

In 1967, Percy Talati started working for the ACSCCA (the name changed to Turnstone in 1989), and became the agency’s executive director in 1970. Turnstone had already outgrown the building space available by 1975.

Louraine started with Turnstone in 1990 and took over from Talati in 1995 to lead building campaigns from 1995 to 2000 that doubled the square footage as programs were added to cover all ages. Her last great push was to help start the campaign for the $14 million Plassman Athletic Center which was opened in September 2015, adding 125,000 square feet to the original structure.

“Every time I walk in the door, I still can’t believe it’s here,” Louraine said. “I just can’t.”

The ironic thing is that the addition started as employees simply asking for a storage room, but board chairman Tracy Shellabarger challenged the staff by asking what their dream list would be.

After focus groups and brainstorming sessions, a tremendous combination of possibilities was presented, such as a recreation fieldhouse, a therapeutic pool and expanded adult day services. The only things on the list they didn’t receive were a bowling alley, a cool-water pool, a baseball field and an ice rink — things available close by. Lorraine’s replacement, Mike Mushett took over as CEO in December 2014 and spearheaded the final construction process.

“We had all the right people working on it,” Louraine said. “We had Mike as a consultant, the right architects, the right builder, the right board of directors. I couldn’t have done this 15 years ago because this board wasn’t ready, the community wasn’t ready. It just wasn’t time. It was time now.”

The major goal was to become a Midwest capital for working with children and adults with disabilities, but it may become something even greater. Turnstone has become a place to lead into a new era, Louraine said.

“I always had this dream, this vision, that people would relocate to Fort Wayne because of the services and amenities that they found at Turnstone,” she said. “They are going to seek out what they can find to make their life easier, and those things are here now. The world is getting better for people with disabilities, and Turnstone is a big part of that.”

Though she is officially retired, Louraine still walks into Turnstone at least a couple times a week. She works on select projects, but the place is still her baby.

“It’s just the heart and the team and the culture of the organization,” she said. “I think when it really got me the most is when I brought my mom in here, and we were working in the pool, and I thought `This is what it’s all about.’ I always told the staff, I just want to build the best there is so they can take care of me.”