Three sizable senior living communities started by Bill and Esther Littlejohn recently sold to a Chicago-based firm.
Oxford Capital Group, LLC confirmed via an Oct. 20 press release its purchase of the Sherwood Portfolio — including 256 homes/units in Sequim at the Fifth Avenue (500 W. Hendrickson Road), The Lodge at Sherwood Village (660 W. Evergreen Farm Way) and Sherwood Assisted Living (550 W. Hendrickson Road).
It was jointly purchased through affiliates of Fortress Investment Group LLC, according to the release.
Esther Littlejohn said in a phone interview it was a hard decision to sell the properties because of the many connections her family made.
“It’s difficult in that it’s like letting go of your family,” she said. “We have employees who have worked for us for 20 to 30 years.
“They are extremely loyal. I can’t say enough about the employees from managers to aides. They hung in there with us and I hope they’ll continue to work for the new administrators.”
The three businesses employ 177 staffers.
Esther said her daughter Lindsay Littlejohn and CEO David Nuelle did a great job of managing the sale and operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Larry Cummings, president of Oxford Living US, LLC, Oxford’s senior housing management affiliate, said in a phone interview that Sequim’s properties are the only senior housing properties Oxford Living currently oversees in the U.S., along with 14 properties in Ontario, Canada.
He said that Oxford contacted the Littlejohn family about the purchase a year ago.
“We were in talks for all three properties with the Littlejohn family and they wanted to find a company with a similar profile with a small company feel, not a big layered corporation,” Cummings said.
“Their goals seem to fit well with the type of businesses we have and our area,” Esther Littlejohn said.
According to its press release, Oxford Capital Group and/or its principals own more than 4,000 senior housing units in seven states, including Oregon.
The Littlejohn family didn’t want to sell their properties to different ownership groups either, Cummings said.
Parties agreed not to disclose the sale price, they said.
Cummings confirmed the company plans to invest more than $8 million to enhance the properties including adding 10 memory care units to Sherwood Assisted Living.
Company representatives will also gather input and assess potential improvements over the next six months, he said.
“We want to get to know the properties — that are in beautiful shape — and get input from residents and staff,” Cummings said.
Some improvements could be “substantial enhancements to public spaces” such as re-carpeting, he said.
Cummings said he’s been involved in the senior housing industry since 1989 and “businesses aren’t successful by cutting corners.”
“They’re successful by taking care of residents,” he said.
The feeling of being cozy, and a friendliness where people say “hi” to each other is “what makes a successful property,” Cummings said.
Residents were all sent a letter about the sale, and he met with them over a few days, he said.
Following lessened COVID-19 protocols, the businesses will be reopening dining rooms to visitors and groups, too.
“We’d love people to stop in for lunch or for a cup of coffee,” Cummings said.
While the sale was a hard decision to make, Esther Littlejohn said she wanted to honor the wishes of her late husband Bill, who died on Dec. 12, 2019 at age 73 of an unknown neurological disease.
“It was something Bill was trying to accomplish before he got sick,” she said.
“It was too difficult for him to do. We both had a lot of emotional attachment to these properties. It was a difficult decision but I knew it had to happen. It was a natural progression.”
The couple met at Walla Walla College, now Walla Walla University, with Esther pursuing a nursing degree, and Bill a business and accounting degree.
They went on to marry in 1968 and moved to Sequim in 1969 to help Bill’s parents operate Sequim Nursing Care, now Discovery Memory Care.
In 1971, the couple started their first venture Sequim Ambulance — now Olympic Ambulance — when they’d go on calls together early on.
“His motto was to ‘find a need and fill it.’ We did that,” she said.
“He was very forward thinking and so was his father (Dr. Robert Littlejohn, a physician on the Olympic Peninsula for four decades) buying that property where the Sherwood properties would become what it is today.”
Bill served as president and Esther vice-president of their businesses. She’d help in many roles from billing to decorating to working as a nurse.
Businesses continued to grow and new ventures started, such as Sherwood Village in 1973 that became 187 homes/condominiums followed by the establishment of Sherwood Manor (now Sherwood Assisted Living), the Fifth Avenue Retirement Center, the Lodge, and many other ventures.
The Fifth Avenue and Lodge feature studios, one- or two-bedroom apartments, and cottages, while Sherwood Assisted Living provides 24 hour on-site licensed nursing care.
Esther said she feels her family has left a positive impact in Sequim.
“We’ve started businesses that are thriving now and continue to thrive,” she said.
“We’ve been involved in supporting the community like the (Olympic Medical Center) Cancer Center and the (OMC) Hospital Foundation, and the Boys & Girls Club.
“Sequim was good to us, and we were both raised to believe you give back.”
Through the decades of working in Sequim, she’s proud of her former employees, and the scholarship foundation, she and Bill started.
“Our employees loved us enough to hang in there during the sale,” Esther said.
“It’s a tone set by Bill when he worked there. It’s the quality of care at all of the businesses.”
Their Bill and Esther Littlejohn Scholarship Foundation was started in 2001 after they sold Olympic Healthcare (now Avamere) and invested the profits to put towards Sequim scholarships and for the couple’s former schools/academies.
Depending on how much the investments made, they give out $1,500 renewable scholarships to 10-15 students, Esther said.
“I’m really proud we were able to do that because it means a lot to these parents,” she said.
“In one family, all four children have gotten scholarships, and all four graduated from (the University of Washington).
“We told (now retired Sequim High counselor Mitzi Sanders) we’re not just looking for kids with the best grades, but the kids who do the best they can.”
Following the sale, Esther said her family continues to own Thomas Builders and has no plans to sell. They also have properties in the area that will be developed as time goes on, she said.
In a quiet move in October 2021, the family sold Olympic Ambulance to Metro West Ambulance in Hillsboro, Ore.
New owner JD Fuiten said he approached the family to add Olympic Ambulance’s operations in Clallam, Kitsap, Mason, and Thurston counties to its offerings.
Metro West owns 11 ambulance companies between Oregon and Washington state, he said.
“Olympic Ambulance is a sizable part of what we do,” he said.
Fuiten said its operations will “continue to go as is.”