Home Sweet Home

The Flemmings infuse their nursing facility with warmth and dignity.

Founded: 1964
Headquarters: Chatham
Owners: Peter and Phyllis Flemming
Business: Nursing home and adult day-care center
Employees: 45 full- and part-time
Family members employed: 4
Generations actively involved: 2

Stark white walls, humming fluorescent lights, mechanical beeps and blips—these are the institutional features frequently associated with nursing homes. Garden Terrace in Chatham, however, simply radiates warmth, and most of that energy comes from the family that runs it, the Flemmings.

“People come here and they say it does not feel like a nursing home, it does not feel like a hospital, it does not feel like a rehab—this feels like home,” says Laura Collins, daughter of Peter and Phyllis Flemming. Maybe that’s why the family often hears Garden Terrace referred to as the bed and breakfast of nursing homes.

The roots of the business go back to 1964, when John Flemming purchased the three-story house and ran the facility until his son, Peter, bought it from him in 1978. A registered nurse, Peter operated the nursing home along with his wife, Phyllis, a former teacher who oversaw recreation. Today, the reins have been passed (for the most part) to the couple’s two children, Laura, 37, and Peter Jr., 34.

Peter Sr. and his wife, both 62, were surprised when their children decided to join the family business. Both had successful careers—Laura was a social worker and Peter Jr. was a nurse in the emergency room at Morristown Memorial Hospital—before coming to Garden Terrace. “It was a well-established family nursing home, a family business that did not need to be fixed or tweaked,” says Peter Jr. “The reputation in this area for our business is unbelievable. I think that you’d be silly not to continue that and make that grow.”
Most of the residents at Garden Terrace suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s became all too real for the Flemming family when John Flemming developed the illness and became a patient in the facility he once owned. “He was taken care of by people he had hired,” Peter Sr. says. John passed away in 2002.

Today, even the youngest generation of Flemmings is involved in the business. Laura and Peter Jr. each have two children (all are under 7 years old) and sometimes bring them to work as a kind of therapy for the residents. Laura recalls bringing her second daughter, Grace, now 3, to Garden Terrace as an infant.

“Some people who are completely nonverbal and non-responsive, when she would start crying, I would see their eyes light up,” Laura says. “They would hear it, they would see it, they would smell it. It was truly amazing.”

The Flemmings are staying busy improving their facility, which was built in the 1920s. Current renovations include installation of an elevator for residents and expansion of the two day rooms. The Flemmings also operate an adult day-care center next door called Victorian Garden, which is not a residence but provides daytime activities for members of the community.

With everything they have on their plate, the Flemmings still place their residents’ care at the top of their to-do lists.

“Giving them dignity and respect in their compromised state” is essential, Phyllis says. The staff does whatever it can to shake the institutional label applied to some nursing homes. Whether it’s taking one resident to a Yankee game or another to the local bowling alley, residents are made to feel like a part of the community while at Garden Terrace.

“This has been a part of my life that I never expected to be so gratifying and so rewarding,” says Phyllis. “I’m very proud to see that continue with my children.”

**********

Finalists (revenue under $10 million):

Nassau Racquet and Tennis Club
An avid tennis player since age 7, Benton Camper opened Nassau Racquet and Tennis Club in Skillman with his wife, Carolyn, in 1971. “They started this club as a way to play tennis, which was a passion for my father in particular,” says their son, Benton Jr., 47. “In this area, there wasn’t much in the way of indoor tennis courts.” Though Benton Sr. has since passed away, his family still carries on the tennis tradition.
The Skillman club struggled financially in its early years, but help arrived when Benton Jr. came on board in 1987. “I still refer to my mom as ‘Mom,’ we get along well, we work together, and we take work home with us,” he says. “It’s very positive.”

Carolyn’s daughter, Cari Werner, has opened her own club in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and Benton Jr.’s wife, Sena, helps out at Nassau. “I get to see them all the time, and now my grandchildren are coming over here,” says Carolyn. “I’m very lucky in that respect.”

A new building was recently added with four more indoor courts, reception and viewing areas, and locker rooms. The Campers are looking for opportunities within the township to expand further. “I hope we’re doing a good job,” Benton Jr. says. “We certainly strive to.”

Stellato Funeral Homes, Inc.
Louis Stellato knew from a young age that he wanted to be a funeral director. “My uncle died very young, and I was asked to read a poem at his funeral,” says Stellato, now 60. “I saw how it affected the people there.”

In 1975, he purchased the Waldo J. Ippolito Funeral Home in Lyndhurst, renaming it the Ippolito-Stellato Funeral Home. Louis’s wife, Linda, now 60, left her job as a teacher to join the business, which expanded to Fairfield and Fort Lee.

The couple’s three children are all involved. Louis III, 27, and Dorianne Stellato Krysiak, 29, are licensed funeral directors, while Tracey, 32, is after-care coordinator. “We’re in each other’s hair all the time,” Stellato says, but adds, “with three locations, you can all work together.”

Stellato served as mayor of Lyndhurst for eight terms until 1997. “I was able to devote 24/7 to serving the people of Lyndhurst, either as mayor or funeral director.” Still, his first love is funeral directing. “Especially in this business, you have to love what you’re doing. Death happens, not just 9 to 5. You’ve got to be prepared.”

**********

Semi-Finalists (revenue under $10 million):

Ingrassia Construction
The Middlesex firm, founded in 1928, works primarily on public projects, notably public schools. Second-generation president Anthony A. Ingrassia helped establish the Valerie Fund for children with cancer in 1976.

Roman Jewelers
Russian emigré Roman Shor opened his first store in Flemington in 1989. Shor designs more than 30 percent of the jewelry, aiming to make his store “synonymous with distinctive design.” Sales top $7 million annually.

Singer Nelson Charlmers
Launched in 1987 by Al Singer, the Teaneck firm is the state’s leading insurance broker for engineering firms. The company founded People Against Starving Children and, to support autism education, the Drive for Rebecca.

Tony Pallet, Inc.
Anthony Russo founded Tony Pallet in 1979 to fix and resell discarded wooden pallets. Today, the Newark-based company serves corporations such as UPS and Barnes and Noble, and is run by Anthony’s son-in-law, Peter Comune, with annual sales in excess of $3 million.

Turul Bookbindery
Focusing on restoration and custom binding, Turul, of Wharton, is run by Margit Rahill, the founder’s daughter, to provide “quality in the Old World tradition.”

**********

About the Awards
The seventeenth annual Family Business of the Year Awards honor the most outstanding family-owned enterprises in New Jersey. Sponsors include PNC Bank, the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurial Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and New Jersey Monthly. A panel of judges chose winners, finalists, and semi-finalists in two revenue categories based on uniqueness, successful transition of leadership from generation to generation, and their ability to balance business acumen with civic spirit.

Click here to leave a comment
Read more Best Of Jersey articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.