A long-time West Michigan educator will be the new president of Exalta Health.
Dan Takens spent three decades in public education, including the final 11 years of his career as Byron Center School District Superintendent. He had announced in August 2019 that he would retire from those duties effective December 31, 2019.
He will join Exalta Health as president on February 3, 2020, and will spend a month working in transition with current president Bill Paxton, who is retiring after nearly five years at the organization’s helm.
Takens said that when the search for a new president of Exalta Health came to his attention, he had to pause.
“When I first announced my retirement (from Byron Center), I did not have a back-up plan,” he said with a laugh. “And leading a healthcare organization was certainly not on my immediate radar.”
But, Takens added, a year or so ago he had a chance to attend an Exalta Health event at the Kroc Center, which is located less than a mile from Exalta Health’s address at 2060 Division Avenue South.
“I felt a strong sense of the Holy Spirit at that lunch,” Takens said. “I was amazed and humbled, and I remember I was moved enough to have them add me to their mailing list.”
Not too long after that, Paxton asked Takens to set up a conversation for him with public school superintendents in neighborhoods served by Exalta Health. Takens did so, and he remembers being impressed both by Paxton and by the work of Exalta Health.
Later he learned that his dentist and his eye doctor both volunteer their time at Exalta Health (in order to provide free or almost-free healthcare, the organization relies annually on some 240 doctors, dentists, nurses and other health professionals who volunteer their time).
God’s Calling for this Next Chapter of Life
Still, when the official Opportunity Profile was forwarded to him, Takens wasn’t sure.
“I knew that after retiring from education, I wanted to do consulting or volunteering or nonprofit ministry,” he said, “but my whole career has been in education, not healthcare.”
As he read the Opportunity Profile though, Takens, a graduate of Grand Rapids Christian High School and Calvin University, started to get more and more excited.
“It just really aligned with what I felt was God’s calling for this next chapter of my life,” he said, “and for the criteria it seemed like Exalta Health was looking for in its next president.”
Among those criteria: a proven track record of fundraising and business development success, a passion for servant leadership and a track record of collaborative and team-building experience, all things, Takens said, that he has developed in his years as a teacher, coach, referee, driver’s ed instructor, principal and superintendent.
Jeff Stormo, chair of the Exalta Health Board of Directors, agreed.
“Dan has an obvious love for people and faith in God,” he said, “and that stood out during our interviews with him. He has a very collaborative style, and his career in education has given him a variety of skills and abilities. As a Board, we believe that his many gifts will be beneficial to Exalta Health and will allow the organization to build on and add to all that has been accomplished since we were founded and more recently under Bill’s leadership.”
Gratitude for Paxton, Excitement for the Future
Stormo also expressed deep appreciation on behalf of the Board for Paxton’s work.
“While we are very sorry to see Bill leave us,” he said, “we are grateful for the leadership, passion and dedication that he shared with us that did so much to move Exalta Health to new levels in so many different ways.”
Stormo said the Board believes Takens is the right person to continue Exalta Health’s mission and momentum.
During Takens’ tenure, the Byron Center School District saw significant growth, passed a $68.2 million school improvement bond, saw a steady rise in test scores, added capacity to its buildings and much more.
He is eager now to take what he’s learned in his long educational career and use it to assist Exalta Health as it provides medical, vision, dental, behavioral and spiritual care services to patients of any ethnicity, language, gender, disability, religion or creed.
In 2018, Exalta Health served 1,350 medical patients, 1,050 dental patients and provided just over 8,000 total services. About 17% of its patients have insurance, of which most use Medicaid, meaning insurance is just 4.2% of its revenue.
Takens recalled a moment in the search process that really solidified for him that he was on the right path in seeking the president’s job at Exalta Health.
“I was a little early for an interview,” he said, “and I was in the waiting room (at Exalta Health), and I was so moved as patients came and went. And I remember thinking ‘Where would these folks go if this place didn’t exist?’ I realized that Exalta Health is the hands and feet of Christ, and I realized that I wanted to be part of that.”