When Maria Stark took a job at Bona Vista when she was 20, she didn’t realize she was starting a career. Now, at age 53, she looked back on why she stuck around.
When she took the job, she had just graduated from Indiana Business College, but she wasn’t sure she wanted a career. Ever since she was young, she said her ultimate goal was to be a stay-at-home mom and housewife.
“My whole life when I was younger, all I wanted to do was be a wife and a mother, so I always saw myself as having a bunch of babies and staying home and not working,” she said.
She started at Bona Vista as the pediatric therapies receptionist and did the scheduling for occupational therapy, physical therapy, and at the time speech therapy and audiology in the Laguna Street building. Later, she moved on to be the administrative assistant for former CEO Jill Dunn who retired earlier this year.
Stark had her own family and raised her own children over the past more-than three decades, but she said what she came to realize was that her dream of having a lot of children already had come true. She was surrounded by them every day at work.
“The cool thing is I still get to see babies. They’re not mine, but anytime we’re having a rough day, we can walk down and see the babies. Or the babies will walk to my end of the building because they’re out strolling around. That by far is my most favorite part of the job,” Stark said.
Over the years, she said she’s also been privileged to witness a lot of lives being changed by the programs Bona Vista offers. One success story she told was about a one-pound premature baby who started with Bona Vista at the beginning of her career.
Today, that one-pound baby is now “thriving” in Bona Vista’s adult programs.
“To see that one-pound baby was almost unheard of 33 years ago, but he not only survived but thrived. And it’s through programs like this one that they have become functional adults,” she said. “There were a lot of obstacles for him to overcome, but he’s, in my eyes, a little miracle. At that time it was quite a rarity to have that small of a preemie.”
Stark also sees changes in the parents. Some come in, desperate for help for their children, and leave with a sense of relief.
“There are so many times we get calls, and the parents are lost. They are beside themselves. They didn’t know what would happen, how to care for their baby, especially if they had feeding issues. Some need help with how to position them and how they can lay them and work on their muscle tone.
“You can see even from the time of their first appointment that they would leave with such relief that there was finally somebody who was going to help them and somebody who could give them some answers and some hope. We always provided that hope for them, that kind of no matter how things were going to turn out it was going to be OK,” Stark said.
These types of experiences, she said, have given her a very fulfilling career and one she doesn’t see leaving anytime soon.
Stark is one of three employees at Bona Vista who has been there at least 30 years. Linda Wallace is another such employee, and she also said it’s the children, parents, and positive impact Bona Vista makes on people’s lives that have kept her with the company.
Wallace started in January 1986 as a secretary for industries and also just had graduated from Indiana Business College. At that time, there only were approximately 80 employees, whereas now she said there are more than 400.
“What I like most is the people that I associate with. The staff is wonderful, but it’s not just the staff and the people that we serve but the parents too,” she said.
Wallace said she often talks to parents, and, even if they don’t say it, she said she can tell they appreciate the help Bona Vista gives their children.
“It’s a tremendous asset to this community,” she said.
The longtime employee tells people that she intends to stick around until either the job is not fun anymore or until her health gives out.
“I have a feeling it’s going to be my health going first,” she said, laughing.
For Marty Johnson, who will celebrate his 34th anniversary with Bona Vista on Sept. 11, he said his career has been an “eye-opening and rewarding” experience. He began in 1984 as a workshop supervisor in production, and over the years, he’s grown with many of the persons-served.
To many of them, he said he’s basically family.
“It’s like mom, dad, then Marty, if mom and dad are still around because, a lot of them, we’ve grown old together,” he said.
One of the best parts about the job, he said, is that he’s been able to pass on his values of serving those who need a little extra help to his children. His daughter and son currently are in college to become a nurse and pastor, respectively.
While he’s received different, more lucrative job offers over his 30-plus-year career with the company, he said he doesn’t have any regrets.
“You know, I didn’t really expect to make a career out of it. I had the chance to take a job a Chrysler 15 years ago and a couple different things I didn’t take, and the reason was because I liked what I was doing,” he said. “And I got to raise a daughter and son who are both helping people. They’ve grown up with me at Bona Vista, so they know special needs. I wouldn’t change a thing.”