The president and owner of Columbine Health Systems, J. Robert Wilson, received an honorary doctorate from Colorado State University on May 13.
The degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa, is the highest honor that CSU bestows on an individual. Wilson received the honorary degree at the College of Health and Human Sciences commencement ceremony in Moby Arena.
“Bob Wilson is a generous, caring and visionary leader who has transformed his concern for others into one of the most successful and respected elder-care networks in the region,” CSU President Tony Frank said. “Along the way, he and Columbine Health Systems have created countless opportunities for Colorado State students and faculty to learn and partner in ways that have greatly enriched the education our university is able to provide while supporting continued innovation and advances in quality of care. He is both an exceptional role model and a champion of excellence in higher education, and our programs in Health and Human Sciences are better because of it. We are truly proud to recognize him with this honorary degree.”
“Bob Wilson has been an extraordinary pioneer and leader in providing progressive health care services to meet the needs of aging adults,” said Jeff McCubbin, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences. “His passion for improving the lives of seniors has inspired him to invest in collaborations with CSU to provide hands-on learning opportunities for our students as well as generous scholarship support.”
As the owner and visionary behind Columbine, Wilson got his start in 1970 as part of the construction crew building an addition to Columbine Care Center in Fort Collins. He discovered he truly enjoyed interacting with the residents and took a job working maintenance for the facility. When the center went bankrupt in 1971, Wilson took over ownership, and he continued to build his business from there.
Today, because of Wilson’s leadership, Columbine Health Systems operates three independent living facilities, three assisted-living facilities and five skilled-nursing facilities in Fort Collins, Loveland and Windsor. Columbine employs more than 1,500 people who care for 1,200 people each day.
Wilson’s commitment to service earned him a previous honor from CSU, the Alumni Association’s Charles A. Lory Public Service Award in 2015. He has been a longstanding and active supporter of organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association and Project Search with the Poudre School District.
Wilson has also served as president of the Colorado Health Care Association for 12 years, providing unique insights that have assisted in the growth of Columbine Health Systems. He was also a previous member of the board of the American Health Care Association and is past national president of the Independent Owners of Skilled Nursing Facilities.
Since 1973, Wilson has supported CSU students through field trips, service-learning activities and internships at Columbine facilities. Over the past decade, he has provided annual scholarship support to undergraduate students enrolled in the Gerontology Interdisciplinary Minor and graduate students studying various aspects related to adult development and aging. He also provides yearly programmatic funding to support the gerontology minor, housed in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies. These efforts are important for launching students into successful careers in the field of aging.
Most recently, Wilson and his wife, Kitty, have personally pledged $5 million to establish the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging in the new CSU Health and Medical Center currently under construction.
“CSU has a long and rich history in aging research but until now has not had a facility to integrate this rich expertise into a cohesive whole,” said Lise Youngblade, associate dean for strategic initiatives for the College of Health and Human Sciences, and department head, Human Development and Family Studies. “Bob Wilson’s gift is transforming the landscape at CSU and the connections between our students and faculty, research in aging, and, ultimately, the excellent programs and services that support healthy aging in our community.”
The integrated suite of offices and labs in the Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging will host a variety of research programs, outreach and student educational opportunities in coordination with the College of Health and Human Sciences, the College of Natural Sciences and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Wilson’s support will enable innovative researchers to explore the biological, cognitive, psychological, social and behavioral factors that lead to healthy and successful aging.