Richmond Hill resident Rich DeLong might never win "American Idol," but there are plenty of people who think he could.
DeLong is executive director of Station Exchange Senior Care, a residential care facility in the heart of the city, off Ford Avenue. DeLong will retire from that position in June of this year.
DeLong, who originally hails from Hometown, Pennsylvania, a small city in the northeast part of the state mostly known for its coal mining industry, found his way to Richmond Hill via the education route.
DeLong talks nostalgically about his early years.
"I really had the story book upbringing. I lived in a small town. I’d ride my bike up and down about a two-block area. I loved to play football as a kid. In fact, I always wanted to be a professional football player," he said with a smile.
His father, Richard, who passed away in 1994, worked in the cigar business, and his mother, Mary, was a homemaker. She now lives at Station Exchange.
"I was raised with small town values," he said.
His route from Pennsylvania to South Georgia was a circuitous one, beginning with his father following job prospects and moving to the Tampa/Clearwater area of Florida from Pennsylvania.
While DeLong always wanted to be a football player, he found himself involved with wrestling and running track in high school.
"My real passion was football ... my mother always swore I’d be an NFL player, but I found myself getting into the more individual sports," he recalled. "I had fun doing that. I probably liked the training more than the sport because I always liked staying in shape."
After high school, Delong went to Penn State University before attending the University of South Florida, where he received a teaching degree in health and physical education. He also holds a master’s degree in health and physical education from Georgia Southwestern in Americus.
He started teaching physical education in a pre-school, where he met his wife, Jennifer, who was also teaching pre-school at the same school.
"I like to tell people that my wife and I met in pre-school. I laugh when they ask if we’ve known each other that long. Then I tell them how we met."
DeLong and his wife have two daughters, Kaitlyn and Sydney.
They moved to Americus, which is Jennifer’s hometown, to be near her family.
He taught there and ultimately took a management position with Magnolia Manor, another senior residential care facility, which happened to have a senior care facility in Richmond Hill.
Another highlight for DeLong in Americus was becoming acquainted with former president Jimmy Carter.
"I worked with him to build a pool and playground in his hometown of Plains. I would pick him up in my Ford Ranger and we would drive to the site. His Secret Service detail would follow us. I also umpired his softball games. He was very competitive," DeLong said.
"(Then) I had an opportunity to come to Richmond Hill with Magnolia Manor in 2002 and that’s how we got here."
DeLong became executive director with Station Exchange Senior Care in 2013. That facility’s current capacity, DeLong said, is 40 residents, with plans to expand in the near future to accommodate a growing need.
"I am going to retire soon. When my wife retires, I’m going to retire," he said. "I’ll probably stay with the organization in a consulting role. Jennifer retires in May and I’ll retire at the end of June.
DeLong said it is likely he and Jennifer will move to the Destin, Florida, area not long after they retire.
Retirement will also give DeLong more opportunity to pursue his passions, which have included writing a column for the Bryan County News.
"One of my favorite hobbies is singing. I sing for my residents now. I’ve been gifted with a good voice. It wouldn’t be unusual for someone to walk in the senior care facility and hear me singing to the residents. My first musical passion is music from the 1950s. But that didn’t always resonate with the older residents so I backed it up 15 years to do the old standards from people like Frank Sinatra and Perry Como," DeLong said.
"I have thought about doing singing on a regular basis when I retire. Maybe spending my time in the community where I can sing on a regular basis for seniors. I don’t need to make a lot of money, but a little would be nice."
Although his penchant for singing might come as a surprise to some, his fellow Richmond Hill Rotarians wouldn’t be among those.
"The last couple of years the Rotary Club would host senior citizens at Christmastime. So I sang for them and they loved it. So I like singing for senior citizens and hope to more of that in the future."
Another surprising interest of DeLong’s is spinning records and CDs as a disc jockey.
"I have been the disc jockey at a few weddings where my daughter Kaitlyn has been the photographer. So I’d like to sing some at the retirement communities and disc jockey at some weddings. I’m just happy to bring a smile to people’s faces."
He’s also been training recently for a half marathon in March in Florida. He is up to running eight miles. His goal, at this point, he said, is to finish the race.
DeLong doesn’t think he will ever slow down and retire completely. That work ethic is something he attributes to his upbringing and wife, Jennifer.
"I owe an awful lot to my parents. My father worked so hard, but he spent time with me. He taught me what a father should be. My dad was a hard worker and he started me working. I had a paper route and I delivered papers on my bike, to start. As the route grew, my sister got involved, driving the route with me in the car. He taught me about hard work, to stay the course and told me that no matter what my job was, to be the best at it," he said.
"My mom was the silent hero of the family. I also had a college professor or two that I was excited about and they taught me that there’s more than one way to approach a challenge.
"But today I have to give credit to Jennifer. We’ve been married 30 years. She’s taught me forgiveness and to stay the course. When my dad died, she helped me stay the course."
DeLong said he owes many people for the man he’s become today, including his family. And he’d like to have five minutes, he said, to talk to and visit with his father again, although the things he taught him will stay with him for the rest of his life.