NEWTON — The new director of Harvey County’s Department on Aging shares more than just mutual respect with her predecessor. Lona Kelly, who will start Oct. 4, and Robert Carlton, who is retiring, both say it was their personal experience caring for family members that led them into the field of aging services.
Carlton grew up in Hesston, served in the Navy and started his career as a youth counselor in Washington State. He moved back after his father was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer.
“There just weren’t a whole lot of services in the early ’80s. It was a struggle, but we were determined to help my father with anything we could do.”
The experience “put me on this path of just wanting to be in a place to help people,” he added.
Carlton worked as administrator for Central Home and Hospice before becoming director of the aging department five years ago. The department operates the RSVP, senior transportation and respite programs and works closely with senior centers and many other agencies and organizations.
“In the last five years, we’ve probably averaged about 4,100 phone calls coming into this office or people coming into this office seeking some sort of help,” Carlton said.
Carlton said he is proud of the SHICK (Senior Health Insurance Counseling for Kansas) program, which has been saving county residents about $100,000 per year on Medicare coverage, and the department’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been very challenging, but I tell you what, we have a lot of great directors running senior centers and they just — we all just — continued to keep the food program going. That was very important.”
Carlton also worked closely with the Central Plains Area on Agency, and that’s why he recommended and recruited Kelly, who worked for CPAAA, to take over for him.
Kelly started her career as an entrepreneur. As her mother’s death approached, Kelly found herself navigating “the maze to get the support and services she wanted” and then helped friends going through the same experience with their parents.
“Then I decided if I was going to do it, I was going to do it correctly,” she said.
She returned to college, earning a master’s degree in social work with a specialty in aging from Wichita State University. She started working for the Sedgwick County Department on Aging in 2012, moving to CPAAA three years later. She has worked with Harvey, Butler and Sedgwick County agencies and organizations as the program manager for the Older American Act. Kelly has been an ex-officio member of The Active Age board of directors as part of her CPAAA job.
Asked why she took the Harvey County job, Kelly laughed and said, “Robert Carlton.”
Kelly added that while she will still be in an administrative role in Harvey County, she will be closer to the delivery of services, which she hopes to expand.
“At (CPAAA), I work on a very macro level. I think sometimes you get your motivation and gratification from assisting others and seeing the impact or change you’ve made in their lives and knowing that the efforts you have made are truly having a positive impact.”
Carlton’s retirement plans including spending more time with his wife, Chris, who’s a registered nurse at Newton Medical Center, their children and grandchildren.
“We have a lot of plans.”