Resident Edwina “Winnie” Reese: A “very blessed” life


Edwina “Winnie” Reese grew up in the Philadelphia-area neighborhood called Roxborough. Her father was a pressman for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“He left school at 16,” Winnie says. “He worked there for 25 years.”

Her mother was legally blind, without 85 percent of her vision. “When I was a child that was the only thing I knew of her. The older I get, the more I realize how remarkable she was.”

In 2011, Winnie came to Homeland, to help her sister, resident Lou Hepschmidt. She learned to play bingo and made friends with other residents. All three daughters — “three of the most wonderful women you’d ever meet” – pledged to visit every month, and they have (quarantine excepted). Two drive in from Montgomery County and the third takes a train from New York once a month, rents a car, visits for a couple of hours, and then gets back on the train.

On Winnie’s birthday this November, the Pennsylvania daughters surprised Winnie with an outdoor, socially distanced visit.

“That was the first time I’d seen them since February,” she says. “There was so much excitement, with them coming and surprising me. I had no idea they were coming. They just told me I had visitors at the gate, but I couldn’t figure out who it could be.”

Today, Winnie has five grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, “and one more on the way.” In past years, the family would rent a house at Ocean City, New Jersey, for a week around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Those gatherings were “wonderfully fun,” and the cousins are all good friends. “I’m very blessed,” says Winnie.

Winnie describes herself as “very sickly” when she was a girl, but she managed to attend Roxborough High School. That was where she met her husband, William. Her last name was Reber, and his was Reese, so he was usually right behind her in the classroom seating. Around their senior year, they started dating.

They got married in 1944, at age 19. With his terrible vision, he had been considered 4F for the draft, but four months after they married, William was called up into the Army.

After William returned, he went back to his old job for a time, with a company making underfloor electrical distribution systems. “Those years are pretty much a blur,” Winnie says. “I had three kids in three years.” The family ended up moving to Montgomery County, outside of Plymouth Meeting.

She finally recovered from her sickly childhood when her first daughter was born, four years after she got married. “I only weighed 89 pounds when I got married,” she says. When her first daughter was three years old, she had twin girls.

Winnie worked for the Girl Scouts in Philadelphia for 23 years as the administrative assistant to the executive director.

William died when he was only 61, and Winnie managed on her own. She had always loved playing pinochle, so she joined a group of about 12 other pinochle players from her church, “and we had a wonderful time.”

From that group, she learned a recipe for “Bert’s pumpkin bread,” named after her dear friend Bertha. The pumpkin bread was a staple of many gatherings, and Winnie contributed the recipe to “Heritage Recipes from Homeland Center,” the cookbook published in 2017 to commemorate Homeland’s 150th anniversary.

Ask her what she likes about Homeland, Winnie simply says: “Everything.’’

“If I could pick it up and move it back to Montgomery County, it’d be perfect,’’ she says. “This is an exceptional place.”

She used to visit people from her church who were in nursing homes, and none of those places could compare to Homeland, she says.

“The people that work here are so good, so kind and thoughtful. They bend over backwards to do things for you. They’re very caring.”

Riddles, greenery, and holiday activities bring cheer to Homeland residents


A holiday riddle: How do Santa and Mrs. Claus get around?

On an icicle built for two!

In a year when quarantine restrictions sidelined many holiday traditions, the Homeland Center team got busy creating new practices – such as delivering holiday riddles to residents in their rooms — and keeping an atmosphere of joy ringing through the halls.

“We’re bringing as much Christmas cheer as we can to the residents,” says Activities Director Aleisha Connors.

A full calendar of events assured that residents in every unit – personal care, skilled care, and Ellenberger – got a healthy, happy dose of holiday fun. Much of the bustle brought activities right to residents’ rooms to help keep them entertained.

Not your typical decorations when it’s in our Main Dining Room!

In the hallways and common areas, members of the Board of Managers – the unique, volunteer board charged with helping maintain Homeland’s renowned homelike atmosphere – brought a festive feeling by hanging greenery and wreaths. Residents were glad to see them (all were COVID-tested before entering). In the Main Dining Room, they decorated a culinary-themed tree, complete with cooking-utensil ornaments and a red chef’s hat tree topper.

“The decorations add a bit of color,” says Board of Managers President Joyce Thomas. “This way, they know it’s Christmas. It’s nice that residents can see those icons that are specific to the holiday.”

As the holidays were underway, Homeland‘s activities included:

Christmas Sweater Day: Staff usually have an Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest, but this year, they’re encouraged to wear their sweaters on one day. They’ll then go to the rooms delivering holiday cookies and hot chocolate so that residents can see their funny attire.

Individual gingerbread houses: Staff will help residents make gingerbread houses or gingerbread cookies in their rooms. Before COVID-19, everyone gathered in the Homeland Diner.

• Door decorating contest: Every Homeland Center department was invited to decorate their doors for residents to see and vote on a winner. “That’ll be a fun thing for residents and staff and, hopefully, lift some spirits,” says Connors.

Greetings from our home to yours!

• Photo greeting cards to family: Residents don their favorite holiday apparel and sit for a photoshoot in front of a cheery Christmas display. Each resident gets a copy of the photo, which also gets turned into a personalized card sent to family.

Christmas cards for soldiers: Director of Personal Care Jennifer Murray suggested that residents send cards to troopmates on active duty with her son, and the residents loved it. Murray shared a photo of her son and his unit so that residents could see the faces of the heroes receiving their cards.

Holiday coloring contest: Residents color holiday-themed images printed on card stock, and a panel of employees picks a winner for each unit. The winners get a lunch of their choice from a favorite restaurant.

Caroling in the hallways: The festive mood also includes halls decked with greenery by the Homeland Board of Managers.

Entertainment: With creativity and planning, residents have enjoyed some of their favorite musical entertainers via Zoom and a young dance troupe performed outside in multiple locations so residents from around the building could enjoy their presentation.

Susquehanna Dance Academy entertaining our residents in very unusual conditions

In November, residents made Thanksgiving cards to send to loved ones, similar to the Christmas cards sent in December. Kristee Myers, the daughter of Homeland resident Maxine Myers, called Aleisha to say that the Thanksgiving card brought tears to her eyes, and she looked forward to holiday greetings.

Opening her mail to find a construction-paper card from Homeland, depicting a turkey in Pilgrim garb and decorated with feathers, “really warmed my heart, and it helped during difficult times,” says Kristee of Susquehanna Township.

“Even during these times, the residents still need to be mobile and active,’’ Myers says. My mother’s always been a helper. It’s wonderful that Homeland helps my mom be the best she can be, especially under the circumstances. It means a lot to my family and me.”

Homeland resident Pat Cameron: A life of firsts


Harrisburg and Homeland resident Patricia Cameron

Patricia Cameron woke up around 7 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941 to the sound of her mother’s call from the front lawn of their home, about 12 miles from the naval base.

“They’re attacking Pearl Harbor,’’ yelled her mom, as across the street a naval officer ran from his house and jumped into his car.

“We went from an idyllic experience to a rather terrifying one,” Pat says of the morning that President Franklin D. Roosevelt later called, “a day that will live in infamy.’’

Pat, her mother, and a little cairn terrier were in Honolulu while Pat’s father served as executive officer on a U.S. Navy cruiser at sea.

That day marked one memorable moment in a life full of highlights and firsts for the Homeland resident — daughter and sister of Navy admirals, a pioneering woman in the Episcopal church, and a co-founder of the Historic Harrisburg Association.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, Pat’s mother decided to relocate to the U.S. mainland, so they boarded the SS President Coolidge liner, which later became a troopship. The normal five-day trip took 10 days as the Coolidge joined a convoy zigzagging across the Pacific to elude any Japanese submarine attacks.

On the mainland, Pat and her mother made their way back to Philadelphia to be closer to Pat’s brother, a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. Pat enrolled in Friends Select School and was preparing to graduate when Punahou School in Hawaii sent a letter informing her that if she completed her senior year in another accredited school, they would send her a diploma.

“I graduated from two schools, 7,000 miles apart,” says Pat, who went on to study history at Bryn Mawr College.

After the war, her father – who won a Navy Cross and eventually retired as an admiral – commanded the Naval Training Center at Bainbridge, MD.

During a visit to Bainbridge, she met Duryea Cameron. They married at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral in Harrisburg, where her father settled near family after retiring. Duryea was an architecture student at Princeton University when a professor suggested that he study in Paris, so the young couple lived on the GI Bill for two Parisian summers. During their stay, they acquired bicycles and pedaled across France and neighboring Italy.

Returning to the U.S., Duryea earned a technical degree from Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University. He took an architect position with a firm in Harrisburg, and that’s where they stayed, raising their three sons and one daughter.

As the kids grew up, Pat was blazing new trails. At St. Stephen’s, she was the first female senior warden in a cathedral church in the nation. When the cathedral opened a school, she served as its head.

“I loved being around everyone at the school,” she says. “There were some very talented young teachers just out of college.”

Following Tropical Storm Agnes, which devastated Harrisburg in 1972, an architect friend suggested that they help save historic structures facing demolition.

“We took that seriously,” Pat says. When a group met to form the Historic Harrisburg Association, the first two membership checks written were from Mr. and Mrs. Duryea Cameron and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Cathedral.

Even after retiring at age 72, Pat helped present story times at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School’s after-school program. Her husband died in 2013, and five months ago, Pat moved to Homeland. At Homeland, Pat reconnected with Pastor Dann Caldwell, who sang in the St. Stephen’s choir with her son when they were children and now provides spiritual counseling to the residents.

“There are a lot of nice people who work here,” she says. “I think that’s the best part.”

As she looks back, Pat says it’s important to express gratitude.

“I’m very grateful to God for many things that happened in my life,” she says. “I’ve had a lot of good friends over the years, and I was fortunate in my marriage and then my family. I’m grateful for all that goodness.”

Homeland Transportation driver Samira “Sam” Rosario: Helping residents find happiness


Homeland Transportation employee, Sam Rosario

Not long ago, Samira Rosario — “Sam’’ as she’s known to everyone — was driving a resident to a doctor’s appointment.

“Sam,” the resident said. “I’m dying for some French fries. Can you please take me to McDonald’s?”

Sam called Homeland’s dietary department and got the okay. Off they went to the drive-through.

“Her face was everything,” Sam says. “It was like you gave a little kid some candy.”

Sam is a familiar face to Homeland residents and staff. She drives residents to appointments and family visits, but as the French fries excursion demonstrates, she’s a friendly helper, too.

“It’s the little things you can do for them that make them happy,” she says. “It’s not about you. It’s about them. It’s about other people.”

When she was in high school, Sam came to Homeland, getting her CNA certification through Harrisburg School District’s former vocational training program. That was almost 15 years ago.

“At first, I didn’t have an idea of what a nursing home was,’’ she says. “I thought it was a regular job. As time passed, it became another home.”

Sam’s path to Harrisburg is marked by perseverance and a national tragedy. Her mother moved to the mainland U.S. from Puerto Rico, followed by Sam’s father a year later. Sam and her brother landed in New York on her brother’s birthday – Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the 9/11 attacks.

“When we left New York, everything was shut down,” she says. “It was so crazy. Our uncle picked us up. It was a scary situation.”

Sam is the second of 10 children, including eight boys. Her mother had health conditions that required extended hospital stays, so Sam learned to care for her younger siblings.

“I used to cook for them and help them with homework,” she says. “My mom says she feels sorry now because she pushed me to grow up too fast, but my mom is an only child. She didn’t have much help over there.”

That immersion into adult-style responsibility helped her develop an independent streak. She moved out on her own at age 19 – still working at Homeland.

She served as a CNA for about six years until Homeland offered the transportation position. She was scared about taking on new responsibilities, but it was an opportunity to grow her relationship with residents and hear their stories.

“Homeland gives you a lot of chances to grow up in different areas,’’ she says. “I always tell my family, ‘That’s my other family.’”

Sam has learned the organizational skills needed to manage ever-changing responsibilities. She has the independence to plan each day and respond to occasional emergencies.

In the past three years, Sam has been on a family journey of her own. She once teased friends about looking for love online, but her work and travel schedule kept her busy. Her sister convinced her to try online dating, and she met Victor Rosario. In six months, they were married. She believes that God brought them together.

“I feel like I was going too fast, but things just got in place so fast. I just felt this is it. He’s the one.”

Sam and Victor welcomed their daughter, Mia, in September.

“Victor loves being a dad,’’ she says. “He helps me a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot.”

The family enjoys attending church at New Generation Ministry. Victor serves on the worship team, playing guitar for services. Sam, always nurturing, is a youth leader, helping young families find their spiritual footing.

Sam appreciates the support she gets as a teammate of Homeland Transportation Coordinator Michael Quinones.

“We have a great relationship,” she says. “When I need something, he helps me out. He’s been doing this for more years than me. We like to make the residents happy.”

It all adds up to her joy at making Homeland her second home.

“Loving what you do – nothing else is wrong,” she says. “When you love your job and love what you do, everything is easy.”