The holidays are a time to share, remember and reminisce. So, I would like to share with you the story of Marge Burba, to reminisce with friends about her remarkable career serving older and disabled adults and to highlight the legacy, Winter Growth, she leaves upon her retirement as CEO as of Jan. 1.

Winter Growth Inc., founded by Marge in April 1979 in Brookeville, is a nonprofit organization, which provides community-based assisted living and day care services for senior and disabled adults. It began as Marge's thesis project for her Master of Arts in Adult Development and Aging.


The history portion of Winter Growth's website (www.wintergrowth.com) states, "The program was designed to promote ego integrity, as defined by Erik Erickson as the eighth stage of human development, normally beginning after 65 years of age. When growth in this stage of life is denied, despair becomes the pervasive experience. Winter Growth would demonstrate that, in the right environment, even with illness and disability, older adults could successfully grow in integrity and overall life satisfaction."

Marge said that the name Winter Growth came to her when she was thinking of her vision for the program. She thought about the seasons and how winter symbolized the last season of life and growth the potential for older adults to continue to live and be who they are.

At start up, Marge used her own financial resources and program model to provide a day program of individual and group counseling and therapeutic activities in her home. She incorporated Winter Growth as a nonprofit organization in May 1979. The number of clients grew and the program moved from her home to space in a Montgomery County elementary school site in Sandy Spring.

In the early days of Winter Growth, which Marge called "the honeymoon years," she did it all — the cooking, driving, working with the older adults. As clients, facilities and programs grew, she became more and more involved in the administrative side of the organization.

At one point at the Sandy Spring site, Marge had 19 Howard County residents attending her day care program. These seniors would go to the Bain Center, in Columbia, for additional activities. They started to question why they had to travel to Montgomery County for a day care program and why this service wasn't available in their own county.

Then Howard County councilwomen, Ruth Keeton (now deceased) and Ginny Thomas, heard these Howard County seniors' concerns and subsequently visited and toured the Sandy Spring location. They asked Marge if she would like to open a day care program in Howard County. The answer was no because Marge and her staff wanted to concentrate on overnight respite care at that point. Keeton and Thomas then asked her to come to Howard County and they would help her to realize her goal. The next issue was where the facility would be located.

Howard Research and Development gave them land. Some money came from a grant from the Columbia Foundation and some money from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Then Gov. William Donald Schaefer provided state money to finish the project. All in all, the Howard Center took two and a half years to complete.

Winter Growth employs 85 full- and part-time staff and has grown to serve 250 clients in community-based programs in Howard and Montgomery counties. The organization is licensed by the state of Maryland to provide adult medical day care and assisted living.

Winter Growth now operates three state-of-the-art buildings — one in Montgomery County, in Olney; and the original Winter Growth building and the newer Ruth Keeton House next door, in Columbia. The Howard Center (original building) offers the medical day care program and assisted living with 13 bedrooms, while the Ruth Keeton House has 16 bedrooms in the assisted living facility and a wellness day care program, which focuses on prevention — health and lifestyle, including brain fitness.

A lot of thought and planning went into the development of the physical environment in Winter Growth. The buildings are warm and inviting, an alternative to the fancy hotel or institutional feel of most service environments for older adults.

Marge's staff members started as student interns and have grown up in Winter Growth. Her protégée, Cyndi Rogers, will become the new CEO. Marge believes her involvement in the development of these individuals is one of her proudest achievements. Marge said, "I am leaving my role as parent at Winter Growth to become its grandmother."

The president of the Board of Directors of Winter Growth, Charlie Fiore, said that Marge is one of the most common sense people he knows. "I have known her for 17 years and there is no finer human being."

Ginny Thomas said that she started a committee to explore having an adult day center in Howard County 30 years ago. She said they were so impressed by Marge's work in Montgomery County that they involved her and she decided to open one here.

Ginny said, "Marge is my idol and role model for serving older adults. She is my idea of Mother Theresa for seniors."


In retirement, Marge plans to continue working 24 hours a week for Winter Growth, concentrating on the services provided and determining what additional services are needed. She also wants to write children's books, spend a lot more time with her two grandchildren, ages 1 and 3, and travel. She wants to do all the fun things retirement may allow.

To learn more details on Winter Growth, go to www. wintergrowth.com. The Howard County complex is at 5460 Ruth Keeton Way in Columbia. For questions, call 410-964-9616.