Ted Throndson, Oakmont Village Association Manager Bids Farewell

From the Observer Archives – To the day almost – 10 years ago –  Ted Throndson, longtime and popular manager of the Oakmont Village Association, left his position to retire near Lake Tahoe. In the following article – written a decade ago – I trace his life and activities, including the years spent in our village.

The announcement came as a surprise. Nobody in the village had expected him to retire, at least not yet.

His pace had not slowed, his vitality not lessened, and the control of his far flung domain remained firmly and decisively in his hand.

What prompted his decision to leave and give up a job he loved and enjoyed more than any other he had ever held?

The answer is as simple, as it is obvious. Life at Oakmont. Ted is surrounded by thousands of people who have left their jobs behind, some of them at an earlier age than most, to indulge in the dream of a Nirvana, where no alarm clock calls to work, no long and tiresome commute awaits, and no deadline gives rise to another, day after day, year after year.

After having witnessed the carefree existence of the retirees on his daily round past the golf course, the recreation centers and the pools, Ted came to realize that perhaps it was time for him to emulate the happy constituency he served for so many years.

But farewells are invariably nostalgic, and it helps to reminisce and speak about a life lived, its many roads taken, and rich events savored and cherished.

Ted began his life as the first born son to Ed and Arden Throndson, in a hospital room in Woodland, Yolo County, just a short dozen miles northeast of Sacramento, where his father worked for the Union Oil Company. Six months later the young family made the move to Santa Rosa, where Ted’s entrepreneurial father started a Propane company.

Descended from Norwegian immigrant parents, the elder Throndson had made his mark in life early as the Stanford NCAA diving champion in 1930. Only the Great Depression kept him from participating in the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. Instead he went to work and fell in love with a beautiful San Francisco woman, whose upbringing was one of privilege, a fact which kept her not in the least from digging ditches on West College Avenue to connect her husband’s new gas business to the railroad yard.

Gas was replacing wood in kitchen stoves and water heaters, and the new business thrived. Three more children followed Ted, and the family made their home in a comfortable house on Brush Creek Road, surrounded by trees and fragrant shrubbery. Santa Rosa was a small town of 36,000 inhabitants, cradled by wood clad hills and rocky mountains. Orchards, farms and ranches ringed the city, all becoming rapidly reliant on Propane gas.

In 1942 their father volunteered for the war effort, as second lieutenant, and was propitiously discharged early, since the Propane industry was recognized as an emerging key utility in the country. Reunited as a family, Ted started his primary education in a one room school house for all six grades. He remembers the time as one of his happiest, taught by two great and committed teachers.

Ted later attended Santa Rosa High School and confessed that he and the basketball did not get along too well. He did, however, excel in golf.  A serious student, immersed in academics, he became valedictorian and earned an honorable mention from the National Merit Scholarship.

Accepted by Stanford, the only school he applied to, he considered for a moment to go to the local Junior College, until a teacher talked him out of it. Ted missed the closeness of his family and the annual hunting trips with his father.

Once at the university, however, he loved the independent life, choosing to room off campus and not joining a fraternity, but an “eating club” instead where friends would enjoy meals, prepared by the club’ s cook, and indulge in deep philosophical discussions.

The college junior chose to major in industrial engineering with emphasis on finance. The lectures encompassed efficiency studies; time and motion; assembly lines and financial analyses. At that time Nobel Prize recipients still taught courses, and one of his instructors was Professor Panofsky, winner of the Swedish honor in physics.

At the end of his freshman year, he met and later married his first wife. Graduating with distinction, he applied to Harvard, MIT and Stanford for post graduate study in business and was accepted by all three schools.

He chose Harvard and Boston and drove his young wife across the country to their new home. The classes held every age group. Some, like Ted, came directly from an university, while older more seasoned students had already several years of work  behind them. Although ahead in study habits, he found his match in the more experienced colleagues.

Weekends and vacation were spent exploring the length of the new England coast, Philadelphia, New York, Washington and Montreal. When the program ended, Ted received offers from large corporations. He turned them all down in order to return to California and the occupation he knew best; Propane gas distribution.

His father had sold the business to a bigger company, named Delta Gas, and Ted came home to Santa Rosa to run the local branch for them. In no time he was promoted to regional manager, responsible for the most profitable area of the firm, a distance that extended from Modesto to Santa Rosa and Lake Tahoe to San Jose.

Fortuitously, the pregnancy of his wife kept him out of the Vietnam war, and the family grew to include a son and a daughter, and later they chose to adopt a little Korean girl. “The best thing we ever did”, says Ted with visible pleasure.

In the 1980s, merger mania struck America, and his company was bought out by a bigger corporation with negative consequences. Many executives in his old employment were demoted, and Ted was not spared that outcome. He looked elsewhere after 20 years of faithful service.

One day lunching with two old friends, he heard them complaining about the management of their condominium complex, and he thought he would know how to fix these problems. As it happened, serendipitously, they were looking for a new manager, and Ted won the job against 50 other applicants. He immediately enrolled in home owners association executive programs, both on the national and state level, and became certified as an expert in his newly chosen field.  He was subsequently singled out to write a study course, based on California law. Today it is still taught as he had authored it.

After a few years, Ted looked for a new challenge and became the portfolio manager for a management company, headquartered in Pleasanton. His office was in Napa which made, at that time, for a nice commute to Windsor where he had moved to with his second wife Mary Jo, a lovely and attractive lady, known by many people in Oakmont.

In 1997 he learned through a friend that the manager’s position was opening up at Oakmont. He decided to throw his hat in the ring, but did not hear anything for weeks. Then one day a phone call surprised him. The speaker asked Ted, if he was going to show up for the interview? It seemed that all the previous correspondence had been misdirected. Ted was at the OVA offices the next morning, talking to Pete Dintiman, the then president of the board of the Oakmont Village Association. He was hired on the spot.

The new job held some distinct advantages. The golf course and the Restaurant were not part of his responsibilities, and the landscaping had been outsourced. The employee level dropped from 135 to 12. Another lucky coincidence saw his elderly mother residing at Oakmont, and her son spent every lunch hour visiting with her.

While Oakmont was in generally good shape, our Harvard MBA took one look at the finances and decided that there was not enough money allocated to keep the Asset Replacement Fund at necessary levels. One of a home owners association primary responsibility is to ensure that sufficient capital is available for major changes and rehabilitation of facilities, such as the communal properties.

Over the next three years, the home owners dues were raised incrementally to bring the fiscal house in order. According to Ted our present amount of the Asset Replacement Fund stands at $1.2 million, with an annual income of $350,000 from membership contributions. Oakmont’s total operating budget is $2.7 million. A sizeable enterprise by any standard.

Dues had to be increased once more, over a period of several years, to finance the loan obligation of $3,300,000 for the new Community Activity Center. The indebtedness runs for another nine years.  The investment strategy pursued at Oakmont is conservative and prudent. Monies are parked in short term CDs as the most secure and most liquid, albeit not the highest yielding instruments.

In regard to the new Orchard development, management advised the board of directors to never count on the  revenues that had been negotiated with the developer. And Ted hopes that future boards will never be tempted to do so. Over the years, with the sale of  the yet to be built homes, there should be an additional $1.2 million available in fees. A welcome windfall.

The new Community Activity Center was not all smooth sailing. There existed considerable opposition to the proposal, and only a well prepared town hall meeting, attended by architects, builder, bankers, OVA board and committee members, reassured the village of the major importance of enlarging our recreational accommodations. Some residents wanted the project to go out to a membership vote, until they became convinced that home owners associations boards function like representative governmental bodies, authorized to make decision on behalf of the community.

“It is essential,” Ted emphasized, “that the recreational facilities keep pace with changing times. In order to attract new residents, Oakmont has to offer amenities which are desired and simultaneously enhance property values. The new fitness center represents a good example. Attendance has surged since the opening.”

All the visionary, planning and implementing activities have one common denominator: COMMITTEES. “I have to thank a multitude of residents for pursuing the essential investigative work. All the functions they do, whether it is researching chairs, or lighting, or painting, or conceptualizing entire buildings, or web sites, or landscaping, they take a tremendous load off management and staff. If it is then vetted by professionals and adopted by the board, this is the preferred method in going forward,” according to Ted.

He adds: “The help that committees give is just absolutely imperative, and the best way to get things done around here. For instance the new web site would have never gotten off the ground had it not been for a dedicated committee.”

All that volunteer help leaves plenty of duties for the manager, who sees himself as working behind the scene. Ted, together with his helpful staff, has been doing a commendable job in advising and then executing the board of director’s policies and directives, as well as taking care of the 1001 housekeeping details that keep his daily agenda brimful. There are over 60 (!) separate subdivision in Oakmont, each with its own peculiar aspect and needs.

A few years ago, the monumental task was successfully undertaken to unite them for OVA business under one set of covenants and restrictions to avert, in case of a community wide vote, the almost unmanageable task of polling separately the more than five dozen neighborhoods.

And then there are emergencies. One incident is vividly remembered by Ted. He had been here for a couple of months, sitting in his old office in the Berger Center when the heat went out. He walked over to the central pool and bubbles rose out of the water on the pool deck. The gas line had sprung leaks and the utility had to be shut off. Not only was there no heat for the central complex and assorted buildings, laying new lines would conceivable cost up to $100,000. Ted the experienced gas professional came up with the saving method of inserting plastic tubes into the metal casing of the pipes. PGE adjusted the pressure to the reduced circumference, and Oakmont was back in business to the tune of $20,000.

The highlight in Ted’s career at Oakmont is, without a doubt, the construction of the new Community (Central) Activity Center, some seven years in the planning and construction phases. Boards came and went, but the manager stayed on point through completion. He emphasized again, “I functioned behind the scene”. But what pleased him most in the deliberative process was that every board sought his advice and counsel in regard to hundreds of details. The directors, with the assistance of the committees, would take the project to a certain level, only to be relieved by the next teams until the building stood in all its architectural splendor.

So then what is the exact role of the OVA’s manager? Ted smiles and states that he or she needs to be experienced in the industry in order to be able to envision, to innovate, to plan, to inform, to advise, to guide, and to keep track of everything. And, he adds, to ultimately perceive trends of a rapidly ageing population.

He can foresee a day when retirement villages will pay to obtain social services, such as in-house care, driver duty, companion assistance and, as is the case in Rossmoor, someone to bring the groceries into the house.

Our community bus is the first example of this orientation. The people of Oakmont pay for a small, but growing rider ship, with the thought that they might very well use it themselves in the not too distant future.

And, finally, our visit drawing to a close, I asked Ted Throndson what advice he would give to the new manager. He thought for a while and then spoke thoughtfully about the need to get to thoroughly know the community, the board, and the committees before implementing any changes. “I leave Oakmont with the confidence that fiscally and managerially it is in very good condition. The infrastructure is new and rehabilitated. The relationship between board and committees and management and staff is excellent. To make changes for changes’ sake would be unwise.”

In three years, Oakmont will celebrate its 50th anniversary. There have been only four managers during all these years, a fact unheard of in the industry. Ted’s tenure could have easily continued, but he wisely decided to follow his wife’s advice to start enjoying himself as a pensioner, the contented state in which his constituency finds itself at Oakmont, a state to which he contributed materially for 13 years.

We wish him and Mary Jo many years of happiness and health, successful golfing and relaxing near his beloved Lake Tahoe. Hopefully, Ted will visit Oakmont from time to time to renew the friendships and associations he forged during his long and outstanding stewardship of our community.

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