Julie Riker’s open-air paintings bring beautiful scenery to Homeland

Julie Riker's paintings

Homeland’s art Gallery featuring Julie Riker’s pieces

Step into the Homeland Center art gallery, and the outdoors await. Feel the breeze from the river. Refresh in the coolness of a stone stable. Breathe in the perfume of the lilies.

The spring 2019 exhibit from guest artist Julie Riker features works capturing the fleeting nature of nature herself. Done in the open-air style known as plein air, many reveal fresh perspectives on verdant scenes, as seen through Julie’s eyes.

Julie calls herself “an observational painter.” Whether painting outdoors or inside, she prefers “standing in front of what I’m painting, as opposed to painting from a photograph or making it up out of my head.”

“I like to respond to the place or whatever it is I’m looking at,” she says. “I don’t try to make the painting exactly like it. I have a bit of impressionist style, but I’m trying to be truthful to the colors and values that I’m seeing.”

Julie is the current artist featured in Homeland’s Florida Room gallery. Every quarter, the Art Association of Harrisburg offers an exhibit from a member artist, chosen through a unique program that puts the works of local artists in offices and lobbies throughout the region. Homeland, the only retirement community in the program, hangs the works in the hallway gallery near the Olewine Diner for residents, staff, and guests to enjoy.

Julie discovered her love for art as a child. After graduating from Cumberland Valley High School, she attended the Philadelphia College of Art – now the University of the Arts – as an illustration major. Her first job out of school landed her in the Pennsylvania Capitol, with a company restoring the landmark building’s spectacular Art Nouveau décor. The work involved meticulous cleaning of long-neglected artworks on walls and even ceilings, often done while lying on scaffolding and dabbing at paintings with cotton balls.

“I learned how to do a lot of the gold leaf,” she says. “I went from doing little pictures to doing largescale walls.”

She left that job to start her own business creating faux finishes and murals for private homes and businesses (www.julieriker.com). The springtime exhibit at Homeland was not Julie’s first connection here. She first helped brighten Homeland’s halls by painting a sky on the ceiling of the solarium.

Julie also has taught art groups in the region, including basic drawing classes.

“Drawing skills are so essential for painting,” she says. “If you look at my paintings, the foundation is a solid drawing.”

Julie Riker

Artist Julie Riker enjoying the very definition of the plein air style of painting

Julie’s travels often take her to plein air competitions across the country, where she is an invited or juried artist with several awards to her name. She enjoys a challenge, whether it’s working outside in bad weather or responding to light that changes every 15 minutes during a plein air session.

“You have to work quickly to capture the light,” she says. “You have to establish where the light’s coming from and the shapes of the shadows, because that’s going to change quickly.”

Recently, Julie established a studio, within walking distance of her Camp Hill home that will give her the option to offer classes, she says.

She hopes that getting her paintings out of the studio and into Homeland’s halls helps brighten the day of a viewer or two.

“If someone can think of me and enjoy passing them, that’s a good thing,” she says. “I hope people enjoy looking at the paintings.

Mother and son make Homeland their home

Peggy and Rusty Keiser

Peggy and Russell (aka Rusty) Kreiser at Homeland Center

Over the years, Homeland has seen many residents who are husband and wife. There have been siblings, too.

But a mother and son? That is a first since Peggy and Russell Keiser have made Homeland their happy home.

Peggy and Rusty, as he’s known to all, arrived in late 2018. She is well-known in the area for her 65 years as the secretary for 10 superintendents of Susquehanna Township School District, from Joseph Hilbush in 1943 to Susan Kegerise in 2011.

Along the way, her accumulated “claim to fame’’ as she calls it, included:

  • Creation of an annual scholarship known as the Peggy Hummel Keiser Scholarship for the Secretarial Sciences, established in 1991 by the Susquehanna Township High School class of 1951.
  • Renaming of the high school library to the Keiser-Fearen Library Media Center, in honor of her and “a treasure of a teacher” named Alice Fearen.
  • And on her retirement, more years of service in the Pennsylvania School Employees’ Retirement System than anyone else – ever.

Peggy’s storied career started because she and three other Susquehanna Township High School seniors, all girls, were asked to help with secretarial work in the office. Before graduation, she was asked to take the position full-time. That began 65 years of knowing the school district inside and out and watching it grow.

Peggy’s Central Pennsylvania roots run deep. Her maiden name of Hummel marks her as a descendant of the founder of the Hershey-area town of Hummelstown. Plus, her mother was a Lingle, connected to the founding of the charming Harrisburg-area village of Linglestown.

Peggy’s father worked in the office of Harrisburg Steel. By the time Peggy retired, she was back living in the Susquehanna Township home built brick-by-brick by her grandfather, Augustus Alitto. An immigrant from Calabria, Italy, Alitto was one of the stone masons who worked on the Susquehanna Township School District elementary school and the Hersheypark Arena, the original home of the AHL Hershey Bears.

Soon after she started working for the school district, young Peggy was selling tickets at a football game, when she accidentally shortchanged a sailor named Nelson Keiser. They were married the next year and had two children, Sandra and Rusty.

The children attended Susquehanna Township schools, where Sandy was involved in field hockey. Rusty was a special education student who loved sports so much that he got to work with legendary football coach Roscoe Warner.

In 1979, Peggy was thinking about retiring, but one day, her husband called to say he wasn’t feeling well. She took him to the hospital, where he later died. Although it was a difficult time for her, she persevered. Peggy and Nelson had lived in a beautiful home in Susquehanna Township, but it became too much to manage, so she moved into the brick cottage that her grandfather built.

Today Rusty still loves sports, especially the Philadelphia Phillies. He has met the late, great announcer Harry Kalas. He roots for the team through thick and thin.

“They lost last night 15 to 1,” he said the day after a trouncing by the rival Washington Nationals. “But I just like to watch them play.”

Added Peggy, “He’s terrible when he’s watching them. He’s terribly loud.”

The move to Homeland has gone very well for mother and son. When Peggy felt it was time to leave her home, they decided to get a suite for each of them. Their apartments, including Peggy’s bright corner room, are two doors away from each other.

“He knows everybody here,’’ said Peggy. “He loves this place.”

Rusty takes advantage of the full range of activities available. “Bingo,” he said. “Sports trivia. Exercises. I do exercises six days a week.”

She, too, enjoys Homeland, attending holiday parties and special events.

“The people are nice,” she said. “It’s a place of pleasure and convenience. I like it here.”

Mother’s Day: Mother and daughter bring compassion and determination to Homeland operations

Pam Brown and Ashley Bryan

Mother and daughter, Pam and Ashley.

Residents, staff, and family often say the same thing about Homeland Center: “Everyone here is like family.”

Homeland cultivates that atmosphere through its comfortable environment, high standards, and respect for every individual.

But there’s one thing more: Homeland welcomes actual family relationships on staff. Generations of mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews have devoted themselves to the care of residents.

Today, they include the mother-daughter pairing of Assessment Coordinator Pamela Brown and Director of Social Services and Ellenberger Unit Coordinator Ashley Bryan. Each pursued a different professional discipline but contributes to the life of Homeland with shared joy and a commitment to excellence.

Pam was the first to join Homeland. As a girl, she knew she would be a nurse. She loved the series of books about sleuthing nurse Cherry Ames – a sort of white-capped Nancy Drew.

In her first job, she cared for cancer patients and accident victims. She saw motorcyclists who worked against all odds to recover from head injuries.

“A lot of times, they would walk out the door,” she says.

Her next job put her in a center for children with severe disabilities. Some endured seizures lacking outward manifestation, so Pam learned to watch for the signs in their eyes. Some days, she brought in Ashley to see where she worked.

“It taught me there are different people in the world,” Ashley says. “I learned about compassion.”

Pam’s work at a county nursing facility immersed her in an adventure that might have challenged even the indomitable Cherry Ames. For three of her 10 years there, she cared for men with histories of poor health and tough lives. She was “scared to death” at first but soon learned to see past their hard-bitten exteriors.

“They all just needed love and a soft touch,” she says. “You had to get beyond that initial harshness. When you learned how to work with them, they were all like little teddy bears.”

Pam joined Homeland in 2006 when she was asked to join the Data Set Documentation department responsible for insurance, billing, and the comprehensive resident assessments required by federal regulations.

“I loved what I saw,’’ she recalls of her first visit. “They had flowers everywhere and the residents’ rooms were so nice. It was a very homelike atmosphere. Everybody pulls together. Everybody truly cares about each other.”

Watching her mom at work, Ashley recognized her own desire to be “a helping professional.”

“She taught me to be caring,” Ashley says. “She taught me to be confident and go after what I wanted.”

Ashley discovered her proclivity for social work while working as a lifeguard in city housing complexes, where she might be a nurturing babysitter or the enforcer, depending on the circumstances.

While Ashley was working on her master’s degree in social work, Pam suggested that she perform her internship at Homeland. Arriving in 2011, Ashley learned how to manage caseloads in Homeland’s social services office. When Homeland offered her a full-time job, it came with the additional role of activities director. There, she strengthened fundraising capabilities, to finance an increasing array of engaging activities, and the database of community resources.

Homeland activities, she believes, have the power to enhance the quality of life, rounding out Homeland’s meticulous care that Medicare recognized with its highest rating as a CMS Five-Star Skilled Nursing Care Facility.

In July 2018, Ashley took on a new role as coordinator of Homeland’s Ellenberger Unit, for residents needing memory support.

“I love this unit,” she says. “Every single person is different; they’re unique. You can never really have a bad day on this unit.”

Pam spends her days meeting and carefully assessing new residents, catching every nuance to lay the groundwork for meeting their health needs as long as they’re at Homeland.

Ashley says her mom offers “compassion and thoroughness” to Homeland’s caring environment.

“Her job is very detail-oriented,” Ashley says. “She has to have conversations with the residents in such a way that they will give her the right information. She builds trust and compassion.”

Pam says that Ashley brings “determination.”

“She will not compromise when it comes to the well-being of the residents,” she says. “Being an advocate for residents, she will stand her ground.”

Both agree that they love working at Homeland.

“It’s been such a blessing,” says Pam, “to be able to see your child every day.”