June 19, 2015

Adventist 'Father of the Year' Puts God First at Home and Work

, news editor, Adventist Review

The American Diabetes Association asked Lars D. Houmann, president and CEO of Adventist-operated Florida Hospital, to accept its prestigious Father of the Year award for 2014.

Houmann politely declined.

The reason: The awards ceremony would disrupt a Danish vacation with his family.

“The date of the event fell during a long-planned family trip to visit Denmark to be together and learn about my family heritage,” Houmann said.

He explained the conflict to officials at the American Diabetes Association, a U.S.-based organization working to fight the consequences of diabetes and to help those affected by diabetes.

But his decision to put family first didn’t dissuade the officials. They waited a year and presented him with the 2015 Father of the Year award at a touching ceremony filled with tributes from family members in Orlando, Florida, last week.

Houmann said the secret to being a good father is to keep God at the center of both work and family.

“God is the source of all life, including work and family life,” he said. “Work has its meaning only in serving others; family life has meaning only as it serves to grow our relationship with God together. I keep God at the center of both. But when I slip into the human tendency to think I'm doing it all on my own, He provides firm, loving reminders that I need Him.”

Learning to Prioritize

Houmann acknowledged that he has struggled to learn how to prioritize family during a lifetime career in hospital administration in four U.S. states and 23 years at the 2,400-bed Florida Hospital, which admits more patients annually than any other hospital in the United States. Houmann also oversees the Florida division of Adventist Health System, which runs 23 hospitals.

“Early in my career, I was on the ropes fighting to save my job,” Houmann said. “I sent the family on vacation without me, and stayed back to work. It didn't save my job, and I always remember how much I missed out by not being with them that week.”

He has sought to not put work before family again, including when he was contacted about being named Father of the Year last year.

The priority on family matches the criteria for the Father of the Year award. The American Diabetes Association says on its website that it selects candidates who “make family a priority while balancing demanding careers and community involvement.”

The award was presented by the American Diabetes Association in collaboration with the Father’s Day Council, a U.S. nongovernmental organization established to promote the Father’s Day holiday, which is celebrated across the United States next Sunday.

Four fathers received the award on June 10 in Orlando, one of 19 U.S. cities where the ceremonies were held this month. The annual Father of the Year events have raised more than $35 million for the American Diabetes Association since 2000.

Houmann’s professional achievements — which include major hospital expansion projects and the launch of Florida Hospital Celebration Health, a state-of-the-future healthcare facility in the Walt Disney Company's community of Celebration, Florida — have been widely praised throughout Florida and beyond. “If healthcare is a beast, Lars Houmann is the man grabbing it by the horns,” the Orlando Business Journal wrote in a 2013 profile of him.

But his three grown children — Kirsten, Cameron, and Peter — said their father’s most important role has been at home.

“He inspires and motivates his family with a commitment to integrity, optimism, faith and balance,” said his daughter, Kirsten Cutler, in a statement released by Adventist Health System. “His servant leadership is not just an approach used professionally, but as a father. We are grateful to the American Diabetes Association for a unique opportunity to demonstrate our appreciation to him.”

Lars D. Houmann with his wife, Julia, and their three grown children in a photo provided by the Houmann family.

“Christianity in Action”

Colleagues described Houmann as a “genuinely nice person” and a “fine example of Christianity in action.”

Jeffrey Kuhlman, senior vice president and associate chief medical officer at Florida Hospital, and physician for President Barack Obama from January 2009 to July 2013, said Houmann had a stellar example of a father growing up.

“His father, Dr. Carl Houmann, found the balance of busy physician in Ethiopia and Takoma Park, family man, and community stalwart, all based on his Christian belief and relationship with God,” Kuhlman said.

Houmann received his undergraduate degree in business administration from Columbia Union College (now Washington Adventist University) in Takoma Park, Maryland, in 1979. He also has a master’s degree in healthcare administration from Loma Linda University.

Kuhlman said that while he has only worked at Florida Hospital for a little less than two years, he could “attest for Lars being genuinely nice to everyone he comes in contact with, personally and professionally.”

Sue Bond, who has known Houmann for two decades and works as his executive assistant, described the Father of the Year ceremony as “exceptional, as is the honoree himself.”

“I am so proud to work for such a fine example of Christianity in action,” she said.

Houmann expressed some discomfort with all the personal attention generated by the award. “I know so many fathers with big struggles who provide much better examples than I do,” he said. “Nonetheless, if it brings glory to God and beats back diabetes, it’s OK.”

Several habits have helped Houmann find a good balance between work and family. One is to “protect the calendar” though annual vacations, regular outdoor and social activities, and strict limits on after-hours work, he said.

“Take yearly vacation, and don’t take work along,” he said. “Get outdoors, enjoy nature, history, culture, people. Budget a specific number of evening or weekend meetings per week, and don't allow outside demands to regularly exceed that limit.”

Another habit has been to keep work and family separate.

“When I'm at work, I’m at work and when I'm home, I’m home,” he said. “I try not to mix the two.”

He said his wife, Julie, has been particularly gracious about this, allowing the married couple to be good partners in keeping a healthy separation between work and home life.