Homeland resident Caroline Witmer: Soaring into the air, skiing down mountains


Caroline Witmer brings a wealth of memories to Homeland, with stories from years of adventure, service to the country, and family connections to Milton Hershey and Dwight Eisenhower. The skilled care resident enjoys life at Homeland, where she loves the food and the elegance of the facility.

Born and raised in Harrisburg, Caroline remains proud of the family business, the prominent Manbeck Bakery in Lemoyne, bought by her grandfather in 1915 and continued by her father and brother through the late 1970s.

“They had quite an operation,” she says of the brick structure that today is the Antique Marketplace of Lemoyne. “There’s a picture of me promoting a new type of loaf, holding the bread in a baby carriage. My grandparents and father, and brother put the best in the bread and everything else they made. It was top of the line.”

Caroline recalls when a friend of her father’s called in 1953 to say that he was organizing a birthday party for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This was no ordinary birthday party. It was Ike’s first birthday as president, and the GOP staged a massive fundraiser. They chose the Hershey Stadium and hosted 6,000 attendees, who ate box lunches under a Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus tent.

The organizer called Caroline’s father and asked for the use of the Manbeck Bakery plant, which roasted the chicken in the bread ovens and then transported the lunches in the bakery’s trucks.

Newsreel footage shows Eisenhower enjoying the party, though Caroline recalls her father being a bit less pleased with the cleanup involved.

“The ovens were kept very clean for bread baking, and my father said, ‘Never again, no matter the friendship, will I ever do that,’” Caroline says with a laugh. “But everyone commented that the chicken was very good.”

Caroline attended a junior college in Missouri and then returned to Pennsylvania to study history at Penn State University. At a wedding, she met David P. Witmer, Jr, and they married in the late 1950s.

Her new father-in-law was D. Paul Witmer, the talented, largely self-taught engineer and draftsman. He oversaw the construction of many Hershey landmarks, including Hershey Stadium, Hotel Hershey, and the Milton Hershey School.

The chocolate magnate lived across the street and often called David’s home to ask if Paul could try a new concoction. Hershey was always experimenting, and Witmer, Sr., never shied from sharing his honest opinions.

“My father-in-law would say, ‘Mr. Hershey, I’m sorry, but I don’t think that would sell,’” Caroline says. “You could disagree with Mr. Hershey, but don’t lie to him. He was very down to earth.”

Caroline’s husband grew up flying his father’s plane. In 1955, he began a 35-year career as an officer with the U.S. Air Force and 193rd Special Operations Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. He flew combat and special missions in hot spots worldwide, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Libya, and the Belgian Congo. He served three tours in Vietnam, and he worked with the Korean Air Force.

While he did not talk much about his missions, Caroline recalls some stories about close calls and tricky landings. One time, she says, her husband grabbed the plane’s controls before it crashed into a mountain range that the navigator only identified as “black spots.’’

“He grabbed the controls and turned,” Caroline says. “My husband was extremely calm. You could have five volcanoes going off, and he would say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.’”

David had his own plane, and Caroline loved flying with him. Sometimes, she would take the controls.

Caroline, David, and their two sons lived in Camp Hill, where Caroline volunteered with the Junior League and worked for AAA and Allegheny Airlines as a receptionist. They took full advantage of David’s 33 days of vacation every year and took up downhill skiing when they were 31, visiting slopes across the globe for the next 54 years.

“At age 55, I skied the Matterhorn,” she says. “It took four hours. You skied in sections because it’s so long.”

Caroline and David were married for 62 years, until his death in May 2020. She came to Homeland around that time and says she enjoys playing bingo, attending Pastor Dann Caldwell’s Sunday ecumenical services, and joining functions such as Homeland’s ice cream socials.

“It’s very nice here,” she says. “The facility is wonderful, and everything is kept very clean. The dining room is lovely, and the food is delicious.’’

Board of Managers member Linda Stoner: A resourceful friend to Homeland residents


Linda conducting a craft activity via Zoom

Linda Stoner had an idea. She had taken a techno-leap of faith by hosting a Zoom call craft-making session with friends, and she wondered if she could do the same for Homeland Center’s residents. With the staff’s cooperation, she made the monthly sessions happen.

“There were four ladies and one man, Patrick” she says. “He said, ‘I was just walking down the hall, and they grabbed me and pulled me into this room.’ So, there were four crafters and one hostage in the room.”

Linda is a newer member of Homeland’s Board of Managers, the unique group of women responsible for sustaining Homeland’s renowned, home-like feel. The Board of Managers is a Homeland mainstay, decorating public spaces and hosting lively seasonal parties, from picnics to casino nights.

She joined the board in September 2020 at the height of the pandemic. But like all Board of Managers members, she has been resourceful in her quest to keep the residents comfortable, engaged, and active.

Born in Pittsburgh, Linda grew up in various towns in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as her father pursued his career with Bell Telephone and AT&T. After double-majoring in elementary education and library science at Shippensburg University, she taught preschool and kindergarten at a Mechanicsburg-area private school.

For the second half of her career, she served as a children’s librarian for 21 years at Cumberland County Library System’s Simpson Library in Mechanicsburg, retiring in 2016. She welcomed the invitation to join the Board of Managers and the opportunity to help keep the residents comfortable and active.

COVID-19 limited many activities, but the board persisted in finding ways to keep residents engaged. They also wrote notes thanking the staff for going above and beyond: “We wanted to let them know we appreciate the way they give of themselves while caring for the ladies and gentlemen who live here at Homeland.”

Linda’s Zoom craft sessions originated with her own virtual get-togethers during the pandemic. An avid crafter who paints furniture and sews, she felt blue about not hosting her friends for crafting sessions at her home. Someone suggested virtual get-togethers.

Working with the Homeland Activities Department, Linda creates samples of each month’s craft and drops off the materials at Homeland. She aims for seasonal and useful items that residents can make – felt tulips in the spring, a summery bookmark for May.

“We’re going to make butterfly bookmarks, except for Patrick,” says Linda. “Patrick likes airplanes, so I made a special pattern for an airplane bookmark.”

“I hope they look forward to getting together and talking,” she says. “They seem to like what they’re making.”

Linda recently traveled to California, driving up the coast to San Francisco on a visit with her son, a Los Angeles resident, and daughter, who lives in the Denver area. Her grandpuppy, Tilly, “looks like Rin Tin Tin, with really long ears.” Her parents and two sisters all reside in central Pennsylvania.

She looks forward to finally meeting many of her Board of Managers colleagues in person and, when the time is right, helping to plan and decorate the board’s elaborate seasonal parties. She is impressed by her fellow members’ upbeat attitudes, which create a cheerful atmosphere for residents.

“Everybody is smiling,” she says. “Everybody is pleasant. Everybody is happy and helpful.”

Homeland maintenance: Keeping the residents comfortable and safe


(L) Major and (R) Donald

Running a facility as multifaceted as Homeland is a nonstop, all-year-around job.

Snow removal and grass cutting. HVAC repairs and maintenance. Cleaning water coolers. Hanging holiday decorations. Inspecting emergency generators.

“The water temperatures are probably the most important in our daily checks,” says Maintenance Director Steve Ramper. “Water temperatures can’t be over 110 degrees in a skilled care facility because of the risk of burns. We check multiple locations throughout the building daily, making sure it’s below that 110-degree mark.”

Every day, the eight people of Homeland’s maintenance department efficiently go about their duties, ensuring that all systems work correctly. The demands are never-ending, but the rewards are tangible in assuring that residents are safe and comfortable.

“When I came here, I was surprised at all that goes on behind the scenes for a building maintenance department,” says Assistant Director of Maintenance James Sparkman. “It’s pretty complex.”

Checking the emergency systems are functioning is a critical weekly task. The staff tests the backup generators, fire extinguishers, and even the bulbs in the exit signs.

And then there are the resident needs, which are a priority as well.

“A problem with the phone, furniture to move, a picture to hang,” says James. “It’s usually straightforward stuff, but it is a priority because for the residents, this is their home and it is very important.”

The residents know they count on James when they need something.

“I like the interaction with them,” he says. “I like to put a smile on their face. It means a lot to me. I pride myself on taking care of whatever they need.”

L to R: Steve, James and Joey; not pictured: Jim, Raymond, Quon

Homeland staffs the maintenance department around the clock, and Ramper and Sparkman are always on call. Every Homeland department intersects with maintenance in some way, so coordination and collaboration are a constant. There are planned projects, such as moving furniture for housekeeping, or unplanned, such as repairing an appliance for dietary.

During the pandemic, maintenance took on a new role – spreading good cheer. While department staffers worked with Homeland security and health officials to assure compliance with strict safety guidelines, they also visited residents “to make sure they were okay,” says Steve.

“Just stopping and saying hi to them and seeing that they were doing well meant the world to them,” he says.

James agrees.

“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” he says. “The residents are very gracious. I’m told many times each day that they’re thankful that I’m here, that they appreciate what I do.”