Sherry and Bill Stout: Board members upholding Homeland’s tradition of excellence

Sherry and Bill Stout

Sherry and Bill Stout, finding complementary ways to serve at Homeland

At her first Homeland Board of Managers meeting, Sherry Stout was in awe.

“The thing I most remember was the emphasis on excellence,” she recalls. “Homeland doesn’t accept anything but hard work. We expect the best, and we are going to be the best.”

Sherry and her husband Bill Stout, retired chairman and CEO of global engineering firm Gannett Fleming, share an insider’s view into Homeland’s commitment to excellence. Currently, they are the sole husband-wife pairing to serve on Homeland’s unique dual-board structure. He belongs to the Board of Trustees, which oversees policy and finances, while she is a mainstay of the Board of Managers, responsible for enhancing resident life.

The board arrangement allows Homeland to channel the varied talents of top civic leaders into sustaining Homeland’s standing as a caring organization that includes a CMS Five-Star Skilled Nursing Care Facility rating, Medicare’s highest citation.

“The residents come first,’’ Sherry says. “We don’t compromise when it comes to the residents. This is their home. This is where they live.”

Their connection to Homeland began when a friend and mentor of Sherry’s told her about the Board of Managers. The relationship has paralleled Homeland’s growth from a purely physical facility into a community service provider. When she joined the board, planning was underway for Homeland Hospice, celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2019.

In 2016, Homeland launched Homeland HomeHealth, a service implementing physician-ordered care plans at home, and Homeland HomeCare, providing in-home help with medical and daily living needs.

Through the Board of Managers, Sherry has helped organize sing-alongs and parties, hang artwork, renovate resident rooms, and write birthday cards for staff.

“I’ve done a lot of flower arranging,” she adds. “Our fresh flowers in the dining rooms are really important. It doesn’t sound like much, but it is.”

Through those years, Bill pitched in when he could, occasionally lending his baritone voice to sing-alongs or getting to know Homeland at holiday parties. He enlisted Gannett Fleming to support Homeland’s 145th-anniversary gala. When the 150th anniversary arrived a year after he retired, both Bill and Sherry helped recruit sponsors and advertising.

Bill joined the Board of Trustees in September 2018. While other boards he has served on “provide a general service to the community,” Homeland is “a little more focused.”

“It’s not a community of thousands,” he says. “It’s a community of hundreds. It makes it a little more personal.”

The Board of Trustees attracts the region’s leading citizens, Bill notes. When they choose to devote their energy and talents, “that speaks volumes about Homeland.”

Faith and supporting the community are important to the Stouts. They help organize their church’s support for Downtown Daily Bread, a Harrisburg homeless service provider. Bill teaches Sunday school and sings in the choir. Sherry prepares bread for the communion committee and cooks for the casserole ministry – lasagna is a favorite – that provides ready-made meals for church members in need.

Sherry extended the casserole committee’s scope to Homeland Hospice, making dishes to be frozen and shared with families.

Together, Sherry and Bill describe a lifetime partnership built on each other’s strengths.

“She’s nurturing,” he says. “Whether it’s through a casserole or visiting with a resident or helping Homeland look nicer through flowers, it’s about caring and nurturing. It’s what she does.”

Bill “is tremendously organized and analytical,” says Sherry. “He can look at a situation and analyze what needs to be done and where things need to go. He listens.”

Now that Bill has retired, the couple hopes to travel more and a trip to the Holy Land is on their bucket list. They also enjoy spending time with their three grown children and love it when they get to care for their 2-year-old granddaughter.

Both are committed to ensuring Homeland’s continued place as a beacon of excellence in the community.

“I hope that Homeland can grow where it is in terms of residential care and also be able to grow Homeland Hospice, Homeland HomeHealth, and Homeland HomeCare,” Bill says. “The skill sets that the people of Homeland have can be extended beyond Homeland Center to people in their homes.”

Renowned music educator Robert Lau regularly brings piano stylings to Homeland

Robert Lau

A regular lunchtime renowned guest, Robert Lau performs at Homeland Center.

It’s a sunny Wednesday and Homeland residents are enjoying a lunch of salmon patty or country-fried chicken in the Main Dining room as a pleasant string of tunes floats from the piano in the corner. The songs are familiar standards and Broadway classics – “Misty,” “People,” “Maria,” a medley from “The Sound of Music.”

Residents applaud each number. Some sing the words. Others converse quietly among themselves to a gentle musical accompaniment. While they clearly enjoy the music, only a few realize the pianist was an award-winning music teacher at Lebanon Valley College and Penn State Harrisburg, as well as a composer with a storied career.

Dr. Robert Lau comes to Homeland once a month during lunchtime to play a selection of tunes on Homeland’s Steinway grand piano, a gift from a former resident.

“I always enjoy him very much,” said resident Phoebe Berner. “He’s an accomplished musician.”

Lau grew up in a musical family and knew as a child that he would pursue a career in music. He started playing the violin at age 7. By his teen years, Lau was concertmaster for the Harrisburg Symphony Youth Orchestra. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music education from Lebanon Valley College and supported himself by playing piano at local nightspots. He earned master’s and doctoral degrees in theoretical studies from Eastman School of Music and Catholic University.

His composing career was inspired by a guest artist at a conference who suggested he try his hand at writing. When a former LVC student played one of his pieces for a master’s-degree recital in New York City, an eminent organist on the judging panel called Lau to say he wanted to have it published.

In total, Lau has written more than 500 pieces of music, mostly choral anthems and keyboard pieces. Around 2013, his best-selling “Sing To the Lord A New Song” made the American Choral Directors Association’s list of 10 anthems that members should know – a “meaningful moment,” he says, “because it came from my peers.”

Lau’s latest work, based on one of the biblical Psalms, premieres in April 2019 as a commission for Voices of the Valley’s 40th-anniversary concert. A touring choir at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome sang another piece — an accomplishment requiring the stamp of approval from the Vatican itself.

While some classical musicians frown on playing lighter fare, Lau enjoys works by Broadway and pop composers. In retirement, he plays the organ for churches throughout the region. He began playing for Homeland’s residents in 2016.

Robert Lau and Rita SperlingResidents, he adds, are “very generous with their comments.” On this particular day, resident Rita Sperling approached Lau following his performance.

“I close my eyes, and I could see my mother play,” she told him. “When I played, it never sounded like that. My fingers didn’t work as well as theirs. It’s enjoyable when you can close your eyes and see your mother play piano.”

That is a typical reaction, Lau says.

“They’re such wonderful people,’’ he said. “Somebody always comes up to me and tells me how much they appreciate it. That makes it all worthwhile.”

Poker, blackjack and slots: The excitement of a casino comes to Homeland


From a dining room to a casino!

Cheers from around the slot machines. Intense concentration at the poker table. Groans from the blackjack table.

If Homeland Center residents can’t go to Monte Carlo, Monte Carlo can come to them. The Homeland Board of Managers worked its magic to make it happen, creating the fun, color, and din of a casino for the annual winter party.

Red drapes framed the windows, with dangling dice as curtain tiebacks. Tables were decked in green cloths and sported play coins, dice, giant cards.

Homeland Center’s unique Board of Managers works to enhance residential life, keeping the facility bright and cheery, and regularly organizing special events. For Casino Night – held on a recent Tuesday afternoon – board members transformed Homeland’s Main Dining Room into a bustling casino floor.

“A lot of work and effort went into this,” said Julie Wilhite, attending the party with her mother, resident Ruth Taylor. “This is beautiful. This is beyond expectations. I love it.”

Lively music playing ranged from Billy Joel’s “My Life” to casino-appropriate selections from Frank Sinatra. The games were brought in by Phantom Entertainment Services, a multi-state provider of novelty entertainment. Personable dealers kept up their repartee, joking with residents, who all received chips.

PokerAt the blackjack table, chip value ranged from a pretend $50 to $1,000, depending on the color. Round after round, resident Sandy Friedman let all her chips ride until her stash ballooned to $1,600.

“I’m winning,” she said. “I like playing blackjack. I’ve been all over the world gambling with my husband. This guy’s good.”

Board of Managers member cited Joyce Thomas as the primary force behind the room’s transformation, but she wouldn’t take sole credit.

“We did it,” she emphasized. “We brought it in, and the residents just played.”

Thomas and a friend started decorating events when they were parents of Cedar Cliff High School students. These days, she fills her basement with the décor needed to transform the Main Dining Room into a themed wonderland.

“The residents love it so much,” she said. “It takes them out of the ordinary. It’s a bit of fantasy land for a week.”

Phantom Entertainment’s Adam Melhorn manned the slots area. It was his first time working an event in a retirement community.

“This is awesome,” he said. “Everyone’s really friendly. Folks are having a lot of fun.”

Residents inserted tokens into colorful slot machines with such names as Kung-Fu Lady and Zak-Zak. Resident Peggy Keiser marveled at the lights and sounds. “Oh, my gosh,” she kept saying. “This is so different.”

When it was Peggy’s turn to step up to a machine, it was her lucky day. The crowd cheered as the machine jingled with winning coins. She hit matching images so often that she finally turned to Melhorn and said, “There must be something wrong with this machine.”

SlotsAll the residents came away winners and used their chips to select prizes from a table loaded with candy, puzzle books, and stuffed toys.

Donna Longnaker watched her mother, Betty Dumas, enjoy one of her favorite pastimes – playing the slot machines.

“She used to go to Atlantic City,” Donna said. “I’m so glad they’re doing this because she really loves it.”