Sports talk at Homeland with Herm Minkoff covers all the bases


Herm Minkoff talks to, from left, residents Dick Simons, Edwin Kingston, Stanley Fabiano and Verna Tarasi

Herm Minkoff asks the group: Should colleges pay their athletes? After all, schools make millions. Coaches make millions, plus bonuses for steering their teams toward championship games.

Dick Simons believes in a “reasonable reimbursement,” after accounting for scholarships and such. Verna Tarasi isn’t sure. Stanley Fabiano agrees with Simons that some payment seems fair.

“The major problem,” Fabiano adds to the debate, “is if they give it to one sport, they’d have to give it to all the sports.”

Welcome to Sports Talk at Homeland Center. Every other Thursday, residents and rehab patients gather near the beauty salon, just beside the eye-catching saltwater aquarium, for a discussion of sports topics led by Minkoff.

Minkoff is a retired furniture dealer and resident of Susquehanna Township who devotes his time to volunteering. He leads discussion groups at retirement communities. He serves meals at homeless shelters. He delivers meals to homebound people.

“I just love to do things to make people happy,” he says. “I love making people smile. I feel that God is looking down on me.”

On this busy Thursday afternoon at Homeland, Minkoff arrives with his discussion agenda written on a legal pad. He brings clips torn from newspapers. He brings magazine inserts. He brings books with pages marked by pink sticky notes: “Great Quotes from Great Sports Heroes.” “1,001 Fascinating Baseball Quotes.”

Minkoff weaves historical references into the hot sports topics of today. Participants appreciate his guidance through the complex issues confronting sports at the college and professional levels.

“He’s a good lecturer, and his topics are very current,” says Simons. “Because of him, now I read the sports page.”

“He has more knowledge in one little finger than most people have in their whole body,” adds Fabiano.

Minkoff keeps the discussion topical and timely. On the eve of opening day for Major League Baseball, he reminds participants that on April 15, every ballplayer wears the number 42 to honor Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers legend who broke baseball’s color barrier in 1947. He compares Robinson’s last year with the Dodgers, when the aging player refused a trade to the hated Giants, to today’s New York Yankees signing Derek Jeter, beloved but past his prime, to one last year.

“Jeter has seen his better years,” Minkoff says. “They want him to finish up as a Yankee. The Dodgers should have done that with Jackie Robinson.”

Minkoff doesn’t shy from the most controversial aspects of sports today, whether it’s paying college athletes, racism in the locker rooms or changing team names that some find offensive. His topics are ripped from the headlines, meant to engage Homeland residents with current events.

“A lot of people don’t know what’s going on,” Minkoff says. “I’ll remind them. They appreciate that. They’re hearing things they wouldn’t hear otherwise.”

In his six years of leading the Sports Talk group, Minkoff says he has gotten to know the participants well.

“They look forward to my coming down,” he says. “They appreciate it so much.”

As Homeland Center celebrates its 147th year, a former administrator recalls challenges and triumphs


It was 1975, and Homeland Center’s first paid administrator had a lot to do – implement strict state safety codes, adopt city fire regulations and restructure how care was provided to qualify for Medicaid and Medicare.

But Isabelle Smith added another task to the serious safety and financial issues on her plate. Homeland’s main building, the brick structure dating to 1870, was painted an ugly yellow.

“It was grotesque,” Smith recalls. ”It was peeling and peeling.” So, Smith convinced the board president to sandblast off the paint and construct a presentable façade, so the building “looked like it should be there.”

Isabelle Smith became a Homeland resident in late 2012, but her Homeland history dates to her time as administrator from 1975 to 1992. Under her leadership, Homeland survived a crisis that threatened to shut its doors, emerging as today’s model of stability and responsive, responsible care.

As Homeland enters its 147th year, Smith looks back on the challenges she faced, as well as the triumphs.

History points the way 

Smith sits in her cheery room as she recalls the turnaround. In 1975, Homeland’s finances were shoddy. Conditions fell short of modern standards. “Destructive people,” ostensibly responsible for managing the home, seemed intent on shutting it down.

“There was a defeated attitude here,” Smith says. “It was broke and didn’t have a good reputation.”

In her daunting task, Smith drew inspiration from Homeland’s founders, the society women who learned from their maids and laundresses about the orphaned children and destitute widows in their midst in post-Civil War Harrisburg.

“I love them,” says Smith of the long-gone women she never met. “I love them.”

The founding women committed to caring for residents without regard to finances. That abiding principle remains intact. However, when Smith arrived, few residents had any means at all, and the little they had went straight to the bank, with no accountability. Smith wasn’t allowed to see Homeland’s financial records. She paid bills from a monthly allowance disbursed by the bank. There were no personnel files.

“They were operating like it was still in the 1800s,” she recalls.

Sparking a turnaround

The last straw came when the all-male board of trustees ruthlessly grilled Carolyn Kunkel, then-chair of the board of managers, about spending $300 to reupholster a tattered couch. Smith vowed that the shaken woman would “never, never have to do that again.”

“I’m going to perform the great miracle of Homeland,” she told Kunkel. “I’m going to make a budget, and they’re going to pass it.”

“That,’’ says Smith now, “was the end of that.”

Some trustees doubted a woman’s ability to manage, but Smith’s tenacity and methodical approach won them over. She tracked down funding, worked with state officials, and secured Medicare and Medicaid approval. She restored control over residents’ personal funds to Homeland. She established an internal bank for residents, issuing monthly statements detailing their resources.

With finances back in Homeland control, Smith figured she “had to do something with it.”

“I wanted people to have a good impression of this home,” she says. “I wanted them to think, ‘This is the place I want to be.’”

Maintenance staff painted hallways. Rooms received makeovers, with drapes and bedspreads made from “beautiful, beautiful sheets.” The board of managers gathered artwork for the walls. Homeland built its first wing, the 32-bed Medicare/Medicaid-approved skilled care area.

“The residents became so inspired with what was going on,” says Smith. “They were thrilled.”

Group effort

Homeland is now justifiably famous for the dedication and longevity of its staff, but when Smith arrived, many staffers were disheartened. She stressed education, the human side of caregiving, and the importance of each staff member to reaching exemplary quality levels.

“If I said I wanted something by such-and-such a time, then they better have it done by such-and-such a time, or I would hunt for them and get them by the ear and get them back to do it,” she says. “I had a reputation for having the finest staff you ever want to meet.”

Smith credits many colleagues for their help — medical director Dr. Donald Freedman; financial consultant Frank Caswell, who helped with the Medicare and Medicaid adoption; Tama Carey, one of Smith’s directors of nursing; and Nancy Snavely, Smith’s own daughter and an assistant who was “vitally important to everything I did.”

“I have met in my lifetime some of the most wonderful people that God ever created,” Smith says. “They inspired me. People wonder why I am the way I am. I know why I’m the way I am. I’ve met such fine, fine, human beings, and they gave me the strength to be me.”

As a Homeland resident, Smith’s favorite time of day is after dinner, when the dishes have been cleared in the dining room.

“There’s life in the home,” she says. “I love to sit after dinner and just listen. That’s when the chatter begins.”

Homeland Center’s renovated library named in honor of philanthropist Ted Lick


Large print books, a touch screen computer and a new cooking area are among the renovations to Homeland Center’s library made possible through a generous donation by the wife of the late Harrisburg philanthropist Ted Lick.

Members of Homeland’s boards of trustees and managers recently joined with Kelly Lick in dedicating the revamped library as the Ted Lick Room. Kelly Lick’s donation of more than $150,000 also allowed for the remodeling of a skilled care room and the purchase of a handicapped-accessible van.

“It did not take long when you looked into Ted Lick’s eyes to see where his heart and his passion lay,’’ said Barry S. Ramper II, Homeland’s president and CEO. Ramper recalled that Homeland used many products from Ted Lick’s Harrisburg Paper Company and that Lick would personally call to ensure all was well.

“That personal touch clearly was as at the heart of the person who built a tremendous company and was a tremendous person,’’ Ramper said during the dedication, which included unveiling plaques honoring Ted Lick that will be placed in the library and skilled care room.

In making the donation, Kelly Lick continues her husband’s legacy of supporting a host of business, fraternal and community service organizations. Ted Lick’s generosities lead to his being named Philanthropist of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2004.

Morton Spector, vice-chair of Homeland’s Board of Trustees, said Kelly Lick’s gift was among the first Homeland received after creating the 1867 Society of Homeland. The society was formed to ensure the center remains financially able to continue its tradition of caring for residents regardless of their resources.

“Ted Lick loved Homeland and as his health declined, it was our privilege to have him as a resident on three different occasions,’’ Spector said. “Here he captured the hearts of our staff and fellow residents just as throughout his eighty-plus years his spirit warmed and inspired the lives of those who knew him.’’

Ramper said that in today’s challenging health care environment, contributions are critical to maintaining Homeland’s goal of providing the best environment and highest quality of care.

The 1867 Society of Homeland was established to encourage and recognize major gifts. There are a number of ways to support Homeland’s endowment, including but not limited to: estate gifts, such as bequests and life insurance policies; charitable IRA rollovers; charitable gift annuities and trusts; and gifts of real estate.

“Donations enable Homeland to maximize our ability to provide charitable and benevolent care,’’ Ramper said. “In the last fiscal year, that care exceeded $2 million.’’

Peggy Purdy, who chairs the Board of Managers, thanked Kelly for her support and said the renovated library, which included a new cooking area, will add to the quality of life for Homeland’s residents.

“The Ted Lick Room will be the site of family gatherings, bingo and art classes, movies and pizza parties, just to name a few of the opportunities it holds for our residents, their families and friends,’’ Purdy said. “Knowing your late husband, it is my sense that nothing could have pleased him more than to know that residents, regardless of their physical limitations, will have a place for fun and relaxation.’’

Homeland Center’s cooking club spice up residents’ lives


Speech therapist Shayla Oaks-Rester looks on as activities coordinator Anita Payne sets out ingredients for residents Doris Gingrich and Harold HixonDorothy Bettinger enjoys coming to Homeland Center cooking club sessions.

“I can play with food,” she said. “Anything that’s good, I’ll eat.”

Every other Monday, Homeland’s cooking club brings residents together around a table to cook, chat, learn about new foods and, of course, eat their creations.

The club meets in the center’s unique 1950s-style Olewine Diner, a bright space in red, black, white and chrome that recalls Eisenhower-era soda shops, right down to the checkered-tile floor and jukebox.  The diner was made possible through a gift by the Olewine family in memory of Marian Olewine.

One recent morning, residents were making chalupas, many for the first time. Each chose ingredients from trays full of such delectables as bacon, chicken, cheese, green peppers and onions. As she loaded her fillings into pockets of dough, Naomi Packer said she appreciates the social aspects of the club.

“It’s good fellowship and good recipes,” Naomi said. “They’re simple, and we can get everything done, including eat, in an hour.”

Harold Hixon enjoys making chalupas during Homeland's cooking class“And we can gossip in between,” added Dorothy Bettinger.

While they’re socializing and anticipating the delicious flavors of their treats, club members learn about healthy eating, said Anita Payne, the activities staffer who leads the group.

“These are things they used to do in their own kitchens,’’ she said. “It doesn’t stop when you come in a nursing home.’’

Of course, not every club meeting is devoted to asparagus and grilled chicken. Naomi most enjoys the sessions where they get to bake.

“I like Christmas cookies,” she said.

Gloria Jackson has always enjoyed cooking, and the cooking club recalls gatherings with her big family. She likes the end of each club meeting, when Homeland staff has cooked the foods that members have prepared and served them up hot. Her favorites are pizza and chicken.

Harold Hixon has hunted all over the U.S. and, he says, fished “the seven seas.” He caught a 155-pound marlin off Hawaii, hunted moose in California and tracked wild pigs in Georgia. He has been to Alaska and the Mexican border in search of game.

Activities coordinator Anita Payne and resident Naomi PackerWhen the experienced hunter got a bite of the chalupa he’d just made, a Homeland staffer asked him how it tasted.

“Oh, that’s perfect,” he said. “Perfect. Perfect.”

Shayla Oaks-Rester, a Homeland speech therapist, said the cooking club serves a therapeutic purpose. For instance, it encourages residents to practice using their hands and swallowing. The group also goes on outings to restaurants, enjoying jaunts to Texas Roadhouse or such local favorites as the Progress Grill and the Glass Lounge.

“We do everything from appetizers to dessert,” said Anita Payne, Homeland’s activities coordinator. “There’s just no stopping us. We’re all gourmet cooks or chefs every other Monday.’’