Homeland sing-along sparks memories, smiles


Pete Wambach recalls how, as he played a sentimental song for retirement community residents, he noticed a  woman wiping away tears. He asked her what was wrong.

“My husband sang that song and got down on his knee in Riverfront Park and proposed to me,” she said. “And he’s been gone for seven years.”

Pete Wambach brings his outgoing personality and love of songs to Homeland every month for a song-along with residents.

Pete responded gently. “Isn’t it nice to remember?” he asked.

“It sure is,” she said.

Wambach is well-known around Harrisburg. He is the namesake of his father, beloved journalist and radio personality Pete Wambach, famous for starting his broadcasts by saying, “It’s a beautiful day in Pennsylvania” in his gravelly bass voice. Pete Jr. is a former state representative who served the Harrisburg and Steelton areas from 1981 to 1993.

Now retired, Wambach brings his outgoing personality and the love of songs he inherited from his parents to a new venue – Homeland Center’s monthly sing-along. Using his own karaoke equipment, Wambach plays tunes from the early to mid-20th century, songs made famous by performers such as Eddie Cantor and Mel Torme.

Wambach first took his karaoke gear to the nursing home, where his late parents had lived, in the early 2000s. In mid-2013, he and his wife, Urszula Wambach, started volunteering at Homeland “for the smiles,” he said.

On a rainy Wednesday evening, Wambach told his group of about 25 residents and family members, plus a lively Maltese-Yorkie named Duke, that he and Urszula never miss a month.

“You know I always enjoy coming,” he said. “I love to take your smiles home. I think about you all month long. I really do. It’s so great that you have the desire to come and sing and enjoy yourselves and just have a good night and a good time.”

The sessions are held in Homeland’s chapel, under the vaulted ceiling and amid the stone altar and the showcase of religious-themed Hummel figurines. Wambach greeted guests as they came in.

“Hey, Carl, how are you, buddy?” he asked one.

“Not bad for 93,” Carl answered.

After he got things going with “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” projecting the lyrics on the wall, Wambach proclaimed that it wasn’t a bad start. “I heard half of you singing and half of you humming,” he said.

Guests sang along with the Bing Crosby standard “Swing on a Star” and the nostalgic favorite “In My Merry Oldsmobile” (“Here’s a car they don’t even make anymore,” Wambach joked when the title appeared on the screen.) He shared his memories of family sing-alongs, the Wambach parents and all 14 kids singing show tunes and songs made popular by the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Barbra Streisand.

When Wambach played “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” someone crooned in falsetto, Tiny Tim-style. During “Let Me Call You Sweetheart,” one couple held hands and leaned their heads toward each other.

“The residents love to sing. They just love it,” Wambach said. The event is even “a complete brain workout,” because residents reading words on the wall are using one side of the brain while they use the other side to sing.

“If you have some nice memory songs you want to hear, let me know,” he said to solicit requests. “There’s thousands upon thousands of songs, but if I have them, I’d love to play them for you.” One woman requested “A Bicycle Built for Two.” Another asked, “Do you have ‘You Are My Sunshine’?”

“I’m your sunshine?” Wambach responded.

“No, he is,” she said, pointing to her husband. Wambach found the song quickly, introducing it by saying, “See? If we have it, we’ll play it.”

Wambach ends every session with the Irving Berlin classic “Count Your Blessings.” He does so because “it’s a song that soothes you.”

“When you hear ‘count your blessings instead of sheep,’ you think about what blessings came to you that day and what’s in store the next day,” he said as his guests were leaving. One added her own thoughts.

“Look at the people that don’t have a nice roof over their head, plenty to eat and care,” she said. “That’s all you need to think about.” She thanked Wambach for coming.

“You’re bringing back all these wonderful memories,” she said.

Homeland Center recognizes past achievements, focuses on the challenges ahead


In its 147 year history, Homeland Center has never asked a resident to leave because they lacked funds.

“I want to use past successes only as learning experiences … our challenge is the future,” said Barry S. Ramper II

Making good on this practice over the past year, Homeland Center has provided more than $2.8 million in charitable care for residents, auditor David H. Padden reported during the annual meetings of Homeland’s boards of Trustees and Managers held recently. Homeland typically outspends its peer facilities on per resident care by 30 percent as well.

But with the reports came a warning from President and CEO Barry S. Ramper II: In today’s challenging health care environment, the continued generous support of donors is critical to Homeland’s future.

“I want us to use past successes only as learning experiences and not to rest on them,’’ Ramper said. “What happened yesterday will not benefit our residents who have entrusted their lives to us for today and for tomorrow. Our challenge is the future.’’

To assure that Homeland can continue providing benevolent care, a goal to increase its endowment by $20 million by the year 2020 has been set. To realize this goal, Homeland established the 1867 Society to recognize individuals and couples who have made significant, tax-deductible commitments to the endowment.  Charitable annuities, trusts, bequests, gifts of life insurance and real estate are among the donations that can support Homeland.

In light of the enthusiastic response to date, the deadline to become a charter member of the society has been extended until Dec. 31. Society members will be recognized annually (with permission) at a special event and in newsletters and have their names prominently displayed. Betty Hungerford, director of development, will be happy to discuss opportunities to support Homeland. She can be reached at 717-221-7727.

“Growing our endowment and planning for the future ensures we can continue to fulfill our responsibilities to our residents and the community,’’ Ramper said. “This is our heritage. This has been our responsibility going back to 1867.’’

Ramper said skilled nursing and personal care is the second-highest regulated industry – homeland security being first and the nuclear power industry third. The combination of regulations and limited federal funding underscores the importance that donations play in Homeland’s continued success.

To assure Homeland can continue providing benevolent care, a goal to increase its endowment by $20 million by the year 2020 has been set.

Homeland’s devotion to resident care makes it one of the few Medicare designed five-star facilities in the Harrisburg area.  Moreover, the center was named for a third year in a row as Harrisburg Magazine’s Readers’ Choice for Best Long-Term Care Facility.

Ramper and Trustees Chairman Morton Spector referred to the success of Homeland Hospice as an example of the innovation and adaptability of which Homeland is proud. Homeland Hospice is one of the leading hospice providers in central Pennsylvania.

“Five years ago we established Homeland Hospice, the first of our outreach efforts to provide palliative care in settings including at home, in our facility or in another nursing home or hospital,’’ Spector said. “We continue to address unmet medical and social needs, guaranteeing the high quality of care that has been our hallmark over the past 147 years.’’

Among the improvements in the past year, Homeland Center completed a facility-wide wireless system, giving residents, employees and guests Internet access through a high-performing network. The system upgrades are making it possible for Homeland to implement an Electronics Health Records system to improve care and a medication management system to ensure resident safety.

Additionally, Homeland has added three beds to the center’s Ellenberger Unit, which will enable the center to care for 24 residents with advanced memory impairment, Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

Homeland’s mission has changed since it was founded to shelter the area’s women and children whose husbands and fathers had died in the Civil War. However, Ramper stressed the focus on quality care – made possible largely by the generous support of our community — has never changed.

“It’s not about policy, it’s not about procedures, it’s not about regulations and it’s not about audits,’’ Ramper said. “The residents entrust their lives to us and in turn we owe them our full commitment.’’

Join us at an upcoming senior expo


We thought you would be interested in learning about two upcoming senior expos in Central Pennsylvania.  We have some great giveaways, a contest to win a gift certificate to a local restaurant, information about Homeland Center and free blood pressure screenings. Our colleagues from Homeland Hospice will also be offering handy giveaways.  We hope to see you there!

October 22

Homeland Center is a sponsor and exhibitor at the 50+ Expo at Carlisle Expo Center. Free event which includes seminars and entertainment! Details and registration: http://www.50plusexpopa.com/cumberland-main.shtml

October 30

Rep. Marsico is hosting a Senior Expo from 10 am until noon, at the Antique Automobile Club of American Museum on 161 Museum Rd, Hershey, PA 17033.  Free admission to the expo and to the museum!  More details.

Homeland Enewsletter
We are launching two enewsletters: one just about senior expos where we will be exhibiting, and another one about general information about Homeland Center.  If you would like to subscribe to one or both, add your email address to the “stay updated” section below. You will be given the option to select which enewsletters you will receive.

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