Kendal on Hudson’s New Executive Director: James Antonucci
by Linda Viertel –
A polymath is a person of wide knowledge who can draw on multiple areas of learning to solve myriad specific problems; Kendal on Hudson’s new CEO, James Antonucci, fits the descriptive “polymath” to a tee. After an extensive search, former Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow Schools Superintendent, Howard Smith – a Kendal Board Member and chair of the Search Committee, announced Antonucci’s appointment in late June. Antonucci started on August 15th, taking over full-time on September 1 from the long-serving former CEO, Pat Doyle.
Antonucci is delighted to be returning to his roots along the Hudson River where he grew up. Hailing from a large Italian and Irish family in Yonkers, most of whom still live there, he will be joined by his wife and children who will be moving from Seattle, Washington and begin life with his extended clan in Westchester County. He began his professional journey in the culinary world at Saunders Trade and Technical High School in Yonkers where he participated in the Commercial Foods Program. While studying and working there, the chef at the Tarrytown Hilton, where his mother worked as a banquet chef on weekends, told him, “You need to start working.” So, at 15 he started, as he said, “Eating, sleeping and learning about food all day long.”
From there he became an intern at the prestigious Waldorf Astoria where his mentor, Executive Chef John Doherty, suggested he apply to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). At the end of his training, Chef Doherty then suggested Antonucci go to Zurich, Switzerland to stage in the kitchen at the 650-year-old Michelin-rated Storchen Hotel. Upon his return, at age 25, the CIA called to recommend him as executive chef at Terra, a traditional Florentine restaurant in Greenwich, Connecticut. From there, he opened Valbella in Old Greenwich, and his own restaurant in Larchmont – all by age 30.
After marrying, restaurant creation and oversight grew too time-consuming, so he became executive chef at the Columbia Medical Center where he developed an interest in health care, its frameworks and structures. There he learned he had the knack for high-end hospitality with a corporate mix and was told by his superiors, “You’d be perfect working for a CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community).”
Having studied health care administration at the University of Connecticut and receiving a bachelor’s degree in business and finance from Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, he then became director of 330 Park in Fairfield, and, at the same time, earned his master’s degree in business administration and finance at the University of New Haven.
His next initiative was to take a HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development) building, Spring Point Senior Living, in New Jersey, and convert it to a Type A (extensive care) CCRC. As its executive director, he brought in more residents through marketing and renovated the building to make it a success over a five-year period.
Antonucci’s vision grew, as he then moved to The Village in Gainesville, Florida where he became the executive director of a 1,400-resident, 112-acre, 750-unit facility with 450 employees. It was 62% occupied when he arrived, but, under his leadership, occupancy grew to 95%.
While there, he began to work with University of Florida researchers in their wellness program and went on to gain his Ph.D. at the University of Florida in design construction and planning with a focus on environmental gerontology – the study of design that encompasses not only the built environment but the programs that foster independence
“I am passionate about resident engagement,” Antonucci said, “And I take pride in creating and running a community that remains full and vibrant. It’s not about the age of a community,” he added, “It’s about how independent they are. That’s why I love Kendal residents; they are engaged in day-to-day operations.”
It was difficult for him to leave Seattle, where, as executive director of Heron’s Key, an Emerald Communities Life Plan Community in Gig Harbor, Washington, he had responsibility for the start-up and operational oversight of the $180 million community. He was directly involved with all aspects of construction and interior design, as well as financial feasibility models, communication and negotiation with the City of Gig Harbor. But, “coming home was a big deal,” he noted, for him and for his extended family.
After only a few months at Kendal, he is full of enthusiasm about his staff and the residents with whom he is enjoying a true partnership. He is brimming with ideas for best practices to enhance residents’ independence, marketing to those who don’t know about the Kendal, and defining what distinguishers the Kendal community. Now in its 15th year, Kendal on Hudson maintains a financially secure position, a continued contentment among staff and residents, and a high degree of involvement in the local rivertowns.
Now, Antonucci is eager to make Kendal On Hudson even more relevant and use existing capital for enhanced programming and well-designed space. “The Kendal maintains the best care here,” he explained, “So I would like to take that reputation and engage the community in welcoming others – evolve into a hospitality model.”
Antonucci is fortunate to be the executive director of a CCRC populated by intelligent, service-oriented and engaged residents, for which he is more than grateful. His goal is to express that vibrant culture to the marketplace, to emphasize the Kendal’s many residential options, high level of service and care, and market those amenities to new generations.