A calling brought her to the job in the first place, she says, but now the head of the Juneau Pioneer Home feels it’s time to move on.
Gina Del Rosario, Juneau Pioneer Home administrator who’s spent 30 years with the state of Alaska, is retiring, and according to friends and co-workers, it’s going to be hard to replace her.
“There’s only one Gina,” said Marja Miller, assistant administrator at the Juneau home.
Del Rosario has approached her job at the Pioneer Home with religious zeal. A devout Catholic, Del Rosario said her faith helped guide her to the role and drove her dedication to the work.
“It’s really more than a job, it’s more like a vocation, more like a ministry,” she said.
Originally from San Rafael, in Bulacan province in the Philippines, Del Rosario has worked in seven different departments in Alaska state government over 30 years, starting as a clerk in the governor’s office. She also served in the Departments of Public Safety and Revenue, and 16 years with the Department of Larbor and Workforce Development.
In a statement, Deputy Commissioner of Family, Community & Integrated Services at DHSS Clinton Lasley said the department was fortunate to have had Del Rosario as an administrator.
“Gina has touched so many lives through her love for and dedication to the Elders that have made the Juneau Pioneer Home their home,” Lasley said.
Del Rosario had been doing more managerial work, she said, which was attractive to her as a young mother. But her father’s death from cancer in 2011 affected her deeply and made her want to pursue work she found more meaningful.
“Every time I stopped at the stoplight (at Egan Drive and Vanderbilt Hill Road) I thought what an honor to be working at the Juneau Pioneer Home, where so many people need your time and attention. How lucky are the people working there,” she said.
Del Rosario guided the Juneau Pioneer Home through the COVID-19 pandemic, overseeing a facility whose residents were among the most vulnerable to the illness. Under normal circumstances, an array of visitors are allowed in the home, from family members to volunteers and entertainers. But all that had to be stopped during the pandemic, as the Pioneer Homes became closed off to anyone but staff who were being tested weekly for months, she said.
“She has been a friend as well as an admin and has seen us through many things,” said Phyllis Woodman, an eight-year resident of the home. “She has been consistently for us. She’s just that type of person.”
When the pandemic hit, Del Rosario and other staff found ways to keep residents connected with their families. Last April, staff at the Juneau Home were able to buy two new iPads to help residents stay in contact with loved ones who could no longer visit. Last year, one family member played guitar for his mother just outside of the window of the Pioneer Home.
The Pioneer Homes were the target of state budget cuts in the years leading up to the pandemic, and Del Rosario has helped residents and their families through those changes. In 2019 the Dunleavy administration made changes to the fee structure of the Pioneer Home, raising rates between 40% and nearly 140%, but lawmakers passed a bill reducing those rates after public pushback.
Who’ll replace Del Rosario is an open question. Miller said she was offered the job, but said she is comfortable in her role as assistant administrator. The position of administrator at the Pioneer Homes is appointed by the governor, Lasley said, and a name, which was not disclosed, has been submitted to Gov. Mike Dunleavy for his consideration.
In her retirement, Del Rosario said she may go back to teaching Sunday School, and feels a calling to “spend more time in the Scriptures.”
Del Rosario said she was eligible to retire last year but with the pandemic ongoing the timing wasn’t right. She said she wanted to spend more time at home while her children were still young.
“I know that is time for me to focus on a smaller family who have been put on second priority in my life,” she said.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.