Homeland residents serve as subjects for portrait project and exhibit

Homeland portrait project

Mindy Deardorff (seated) and Sherryl Heberlig working on the details for their portrait project at Homeland.

When Mindy Deardorff doodles, she doodles faces.

“I love faces,” says the artist. “I’ve drawn faces since I was a kid.”

She especially enjoys drawing the faces of the elderly. “There’s more character,” she says. “There’s more wisdom. You get more from the expressions.”

With her love for drawing faces, Deardorff collaborated with photographer Sherryl Heberlig on a unique project for the quarterly Homeland Center art exhibit. Heberlig took photos of a few, willing Homeland residents. Deardorff sketched their portraits in graphite, and each subject received a print of the picture.

The exhibit, which also includes paintings by Deardorff and scenic photos by Heberlig, is part of the rotating series mounted by artists from the Art Association of Harrisburg. The artwork hangs in Homeland Center’s Florida Room and gallery.

Heberlig and Deardorff are longtime friends who have partnered on previous projects. When Heberlig saw a notice about exhibiting at Homeland, she pitched the idea and found a receptive audience.

“Mindy likes to draw realistic portraits,” said Heberlig. “I said that maybe we could take pictures of some of the residents and give them a photograph for their families or themselves, and Mindy could draw them and have a drawing for her portfolio.”

On a warm day in June, four Homeland residents got ready for their close-ups. They included Geoffrey Davenport, who had his portrait taken in the Catherine Elizabeth Meikle Courtyard, as water splashed over the fountain and birds sang amid the blooming flowers and trees. Heberlig made him feel comfortable by joking as her camera shutter clicked.

“Can you look out like you’re looking at a pretty girl?” she asked.

Homeland portrait project

Homeland resident Geoffrey Davenport in the 5th Street Garden, with the Catherine Elizabeth Meikle courtyard as the backdrop.

Mr. Davenport readily complied.

“I want to do this because it’s part of Homeland, and I like Homeland,” he said. “I like the artwork in the gallery.”

As Heberlig snapped photos, Deardorff reviewed the images, looking for “nice strong features and expressions. Good shadows, but not too harsh. Something relaxed. Not too tight.” Mr. Davenport, she said, “looks very relaxed.”

Even as a child, Heberlig was always taking pictures of people. For Christmas, her parents would give her flashcubes packaged in tall rolls. Today, helping her subjects loosen up gets Heberlig the candid photos she likes.

“When people relax a little bit – boom, that’s when I get the photo,” she said.

On the day Heberlig and Deardorff were hanging their exhibit, they found another subject. Resident Mildred Anthony and her daughter, Jean Dyszel, learned about the project when they were walking past. Dyszel said that her mother had a pencil sketch done at 5 years old, so arrangements were made to schedule a photo shoot and get a new drawing.

A copy of the original sketch now hangs in Mrs. Anthony’s room at Homeland – a little girl with dark hair styled in a 1930s bob. She remembers exactly how it happened, when an artist came to the house with a painting of Jesus at Gethsemane that he had painted for her mother.

“While he was there, my mother told me to wash my face,” Mrs. Anthony said. “Isn’t that a nice sketch? He was a very talented man.”

Her daughter loved the symmetry of pairing the new portrait with the older one. “It’s lovely,” she said. “It’ll create another memory.”

The exhibit included paintings Deardorff modeled after “scads of pictures” she found at an uncle’s house. All were small snapshots in black-and-white, going back decades. One depicted a young girl, but Deardorff doesn’t know who she was.

“My uncle didn’t label anything,” she said. “All I know is that it’s a relative.”

As for exhibiting at Homeland, the artists loved the opportunity to share their work with residents and staff. Deardorff, whose father was a patient of Homeland Hospice in 2017, noticed the colorful, 1950s-style diner.

“Homeland is tucked away so nice and neat,” she said. “I love the little diner.”

Homeland portrait project

Sherryl Heberlig and Mindy Deardorff finalizing the latest Homeland Center art exhibit.

Heberlig’s exhibit entries included her photos of Harrisburg landmarks, printed on canvas and treated with a gel medium in a labor-intensive process that makes the picture look old and distressed. The buildings included the Alva Restaurant, the Harrisburg train station, and the legendary Subway Café.

Resident Nancy Hess immediately recognized the local scenes. The photo of the Harrisburg train station, which dates to 1887 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, instantly brought back memories. During World War II, she remembered, the USO would hold dances in the station’s expansive lobby with coffered ceiling.

“That was fun,” she said. “My friends and I would go down there and dance.”

Resident Spotlight: Mildred Anthony’s dad made records while her mom made moonshine

Mildred Anthony

Mildred Anthony, settling in to enjoy living at Homeland Center.

When Mildred Anthony was a child, Sunday dinner was an early affair. Afterward, her father would get into his 1935 Hudson and drive the members of his band, the Mahanoy City Eagles Band, to New York City.

After midnight, Mildred’s family would gather around the radio to hear her father’s band play a broadcast.

“It was thrilling to listen to,” recalls Mildred from her cheery Homeland personal care suite. “I was thrilled.”

Mildred’s father, John Wichalonis, was a trumpeter and first-generation Lithuanian-American who made the first recordings of Lithuanian music in the U.S., for Columbia Records. His father, Mildred’s grandfather, could play any instrument, and he taught his son traditional Lithuanian tunes. Her father, in turn, transcribed the tunes into sheet music.

The recording and broadcasting gigs started in the 1930s from their home in the Pennsylvania anthracite region town of Mahanoy City.

“He was playing around the area at different dances, and the record company contacted him,” Mildred says. “They gave us a record and a record player. If you didn’t wind it up, the records would slow down.”

While Mildred’s father was busy as a coal mine fire boss, plus his music sideline, her mother, Julia, had her own entrepreneurial streak – operating a liquor still in the basement.

During Prohibition, the brewery nearby would alert her to pending raids by government agents, and she would burn incense to cover the fermentation smell. Julia’s boilo – an anthracite-region tradition made with whiskey, berries, and caraway seed – sold in five-gallon quantities.

“It’s like a demitasse,” Mildred says. “You’re supposed to sip it, but at the weddings, they drank it down.”

As a little girl, Mildred would watch tap-dance classes through the window of a dance school and when she convinced her mother to let her take lessons, she already knew the first steps. Soon, she was tap dancing like Shirley Temple and performing at local minstrel shows. Even years later, she could break out a few steps for the Frackville Women’s Club.

For 12 years, Mildred managed a bank branch in Frackville, PA. She loved her work, assuring attentive service for every customer. One couple approached the bank next door for a mortgage but ended up with her bank after meeting her.

“I loved working with people and helping them,” she says. “You have to be friendly with people and have their confidence.”

On the wall of Mildred’s room hangs a 1948 photo of her husband Tom beside his Indian motorcycle. The couple met at a dance where Mildred’s father was playing. They married a year later.

“My dad used to take me to the dances, and then I met Tom, and I didn’t go home with my dad anymore,” she says. “I went with him. I loved him. He was so nice and humble.”

Tom’s Lebanese roots were so deep that he had more family in Beirut and its countryside than in the U.S. When they traveled there, Mildred witnessed the beauty of Lebanon, including snow-capped mountains and the fabled tall cedars.

Mildred and Tom were married for 68 years, until his passing in June 2018. They lived in Frackville, where he was a meat cutter for Acme markets. They raised a son and a daughter she calls “the best gift in my life.” The family enjoyed outdoor adventures and water sports from their cabin at a lake near Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania.

At Homeland, Mildred’s suite, filled with natural light from two large windows, is cleverly laid out. A sofa bed accommodates overnight guests. A long bench serves as a coffee table, and a drop-leaf table nestling at the foot of the bed provides a handy spot for sitting with visitors.

Mildred came to Homeland in 2017 for skilled care and made so much progress that she moved into personal care.

“I got good care,” she says. “I came a long way from the time I came here.”

She enjoys Homeland’s musical programs, especially the visit earlier this year by ragtime pianist Domingo Mancuello.

Today, Mildred looks back on a full life.

“I’m blessed,” she says. “I’ve had a happy life. There are always bumps in the road, but I thank God for what I have today.”

Homeland CNA Anita Payne brings a light and loving heart to her work

Anita Payne

Anita Payne, grateful to be working with Homeland Center residents in numerous roles for 13 years.

Anita Payne knows what makes a good CNA.

“A true heart,” she said. “Honesty. Patience. And being willing to learn, because nursing is forever changing. People can’t come into this thinking they know everything.”

Anita has been with Homeland Center since 2005, and she is “truly grateful” for those 13 years and counting. She moved to Harrisburg from her native Pittsburgh to get a better education for her daughter. Once here, she persevered to get an interview with Homeland because everyone told her, “It’s hard to get in, but it’ll be the best place to work.”

Since coming to Homeland, she has worked in skilled care, activities, and now in personal care, where she hopes to stay until her retirement.

“It has the proper name because it is so personal,” she said. “Our staff gets along so well. It’s like one big, happy family.”

Anita grew up helping elderly neighbors, whether it was going to the store for them or shoveling snow. “You’re giving so much happiness to people,” she said. “It means a lot to make sure they’re lighthearted and smiling and never need anything.”

She once heard someone say that CNAs needed to “think outside the box.” She pondered that phrase for a long time until she realized that it meant her duties are “whatever the residents need.” One resident had always worked with his hands and needed to be active. She thought about it and approached Esther Burnside, administrative assistant to Homeland President and CEO Barry Ramper II. Could the resident deliver mail? It’s a duty he now performs faithfully.

“We brought him a postal hat,” said Anita. “He got his Homeland volunteer badge. Esther gets the mail ready. He comes into the Olewine Gathering Room and sorts it and puts the room numbers on it, and he delivers it. It’s a team effort. I thought of something for him to do, and Esther helped make it happen. And he loves it.”

At one training session, Ramper gave the CNAs a small mirror, and Anita came to realize it wasn’t for her reflection.

“It was for the reflection the residents see of me. It’s very important to me that the residents are very comfortable with me, and that they have light hearts. I want to be honest with them. I want to communicate. I want them to feel like they can tell me anything.”

Anita loves her 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift, sharing the day with residents and getting to know their families. Outside of work, she enjoys going to movies and socializing with friends. She and her 29-year-old daughter enjoy a tight bond, telling each other everything.

She has worked in other care settings – one in Pittsburgh where standards were high, but another in central Pennsylvania where she worked two weeks before leaving, unable to tolerate the lax care. Treating residents with respect is essential, she said.

“All of us at Homeland understand that caring for our residents is our most important duty and I know from top to bottom, everyone is trying to do their best for the residents,’’ she said. “I’m proud to be part of Homeland Center, and I’m grateful.”